The recent indictment of Roger Stone has a number of colorful details. He is alleged to have threatened to take a witness’s dog, for instance, and to have cited The Godfather: Part II in attempting to tamper with a witness. But the most intriguing reference appears to be deliberately hidden.
In paragraph 12, the indictment reads, “After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1 [believed to be WikiLeaks], a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton Campaign.”
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team choose their words carefully. Why use the passive voice here unless intentionally trying to avoid using a noun? In other words, the sentence seems to be crafted to intentionally omit the name or description of the person who directed Stone to contact WikiLeaks. What’s that all about? Here are some theories.
First, who could have had the authority within the campaign to direct “a senior Trump Campaign official?” It seems that only an even more senior campaign official would wield this power. Steve Bannon? Paul Manafort? Trump himself? The list of possibilities is a short one. And wouldn’t Mueller have used a description of the person, such as “another senior campaign official” or “a more senior campaign official” if that was who was involved? The omission of the name or even a description of the person’s role hints that this person may be Trump himself, the one person who cannot be indicted under Department of Justice policy. In that case, we will have to wait for Mueller’s report, and hope that the report is public, to learn this person’s identity.
Second, what is the significance of this act? If a member of the campaign, or Trump himself, directed Stone to work with WikiLeaks to influence the election, this act could amount to a violation of campaign finance laws. It is a crime to solicit a thing of value from a foreign national to benefit a campaign. Opposition research against a political opponent could be considered to be a thing of value, and WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange is an Australian national who was trafficking in emails stolen by Russians. A solicitation of WikiLeaks for information harmful to Hillary Clinton could amount to a campaign finance violation by the campaign or the person who made this solicitation.
Finally, why was this allegation included in an indictment alleging fairly narrow crimes of obstruction of proceedings, false statements and witness tampering? A clue appears in paragraph 2, which states that in June 2016, the DNC “publicly announced that it had been hacked by Russian government actors.” Coupled with the directive alleged in paragraph 12, this statement could be the basis for an indictment charging conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with the fair administration of elections. If the public knew that Russia stole the email messages by June, then the Trump campaign and whoever “directed” Stone also knew that Russia stole the email messages in July. This person who was directing Stone to coordinate with Wikileaks about “additional releases” and “other damaging information” about Hillary Clinton, then, knew that Wikileaks was working with Russia. Is this the groundwork for an upcoming charge or report of so-called “collusion?”
Mueller has already charged 12 Russian intelligence officers in the GRU with conspiracy to defraud the United States by hacking, stealing and, importantly, staging the release of email messages. That means that even if members of the Trump campaign were not involved in the hacking and stealing of emails, they could still be implicated if they were involved in staging their release. For instance, if the evidence supported such an allegation, one could be charged as a co-conspirator by suggesting the timing of the release of email messages to coincide with and overshadow the release of the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump made disparaging comments about women. Or one could be charged as a co-conspirator by suggesting which emails to release to maximize the harm to Clinton. Or one could be charged as a co-conspirator by coordinating messaging to be consistent with the content of email messages about to be released. In fact, the indictment alleges that Person 1, believed to be writer Jerome Corsi, suggested to Stone that it “would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke” to coincide with an upcoming email dump.
A conspiracy is simply an agreement to commit a crime, and the agreement need not even succeed to violate the law. It would not take much additional evidence to support charges that supersede the existing GRU indictment and add as defendants anyone who participated in this conspiracy to defraud the United States by interfering with the fair administration of elections.
Unless, of course, the person who did the directing is He Who Cannot Be Charged.