Just before dawn this morning, special counsel Robert Mueller dropped what may be his biggest indictment yet. Roger Stone, a political consultant and lobbyist, former campaign official and long-time Trump associate, was arrested at his Florida mansion by the FBI.
He has been indicted on five counts of making false statements, one count of obstructing an official proceeding, and one key count of federal witness-tampering – a charge that alone can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Crucially, as the writer Arieh Kovler pointed out on Twitter, the indictment says that a “senior Trump campaign official” was directed to contact Stone for details about ongoing releases from Wikileaks – the implication being that perhaps the person doing the directing might have been Don Jr, Steve Bannon, or even Trump himself.
That’s a lot of leverage Mueller now has over a man who was key to Trump’s campaign from its very early stages, and who the indictment strongly implies acted as a go-between for the campaign and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. At the time of the campaign, Assange was releasing the documents stolen from the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee.
Wikileaks is not directly named in the indictment, but it is obvious that it is the organisation in question: the description of “Organization 1” says that “From in or around July 2016 through in or around November 2016, an organization (‘Organization 1’), which had previously posted documents stolen by others from US persons, entities, and the US government, released tens of thousands of documents stolen from the DNC and the personal email account of the chairman of the Us presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton (‘Clinton Campaign’).”
As if that wasn’t enough, the indictment goes on: “The head of Organization 1 was located at all relevant times at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.”
Details of the indictment are likely to induce schadenfreude. In one email exchange between Stone and an unnamed individual known as “Person 2”, who is described as a radio host and Stone’s long-time friend and Wikileaks go-between, Stone compares Person 2 to Frank Pentangeli, a character in The Godfather: Part II who falsely testifies before a congressional committee.
As the investigation has played out, Trump has leaned on Mueller’s witnesses via Twitter, attempting to dissuade them from cooperating. He even went so far as to publicly call his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “rat”. This may well itself constitute the federal crime of witness tampering.
Nonetheless, Stone’s indictment had long been expected. In December, the president tweeted:
“I will never testify against Trump.” This statement was recently made by Roger Stone, essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about “President Trump.” Nice to know that some people still have “guts!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2018
It is unclear what Trump will do next. His behaviour has lately become more erratic than usual, especially since the departure of his former chief of staff, John Kelly, and the news that the FBI had previously opened a 2017 investigation into whether Trump was a Russian agent. Pressure is also mounting on the president to end the government shutdown which, now on its 34th day, is officially the longest in US history.
Trump has insisted on funding to build his preposterous border wall, but House Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, have refused to blink. Their gamble appears to be paying off, as the president’s approval rating is now at its lowest point ever.