FBI Docs Show Extensive Efforts to Surveil Stone but No Evidence of Collusion
FBI affidavits released Tuesday show the extent of the bureau’s far-ranging surveillance of former Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone — and confirm that while Stone spoke to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, there was no evidence that he conspired to hack or release top Democrats’ private emails ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
At the same time, the dozens of documents — including FBI affidavits submitted to obtain search warrants in the criminal investigation into Stone — highlighted Stone’s hard-charging and eccentric tactics as he sought to obtain information relevant to Trump. Stone even apparently had a Craigslist account under the name “Swash Buckler,” the bureau said.
The documents were released following a court case brought by The Associated Press and other media organizations. They were made public as Stone, convicted last year in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, awaits a date to surrender to a federal prison system that has grappled with outbreaks of the coronavirus.
Stone’s prosecution began with a dramatic pre-dawn raid by a heavily-armed SWAT team that was attended by a CNN videographer, for reasons that remain unclear. Stone, a part-time fashion critic and notorious pot-stirrer, was convicted last year on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements to Congress, although none of the charges related to any conspiracy with Russia. Instead, Stone was charged with lying in relation to inquiries into possible collusion.
Weeks after Mueller was first appointed special counsel in the Russia investigation, Stone reassured Assange in a Twitter message that if prosecutors came after him, “I will bring down the entire house of cards,” according to the FBI documents.
It was no secret that Stone had spoken to Assange; Stone admitted the contact during a speech on August 8, 2016, when he acknowledged, “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.” Stone later insisted he had spoken to Assange only through an intermediary.
But, the records reveal the extent of communications between Stone and Assange, whose anti-secrecy website published Democratic emails reportedly hacked by Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
On Oct. 2, 2016, MSNBC “Morning Joe” producer Jesse Rodriguez “tweeted regarding an announcement Julian Assange had scheduled for the next day from the balcony of the Ecuadroian Embassy in London,” the FBI began in one affidavit. “On the day of the Assange announcemennt,” the FBI went on, “Stone told Infowars that his intermediary described this release as the ‘mother load.'”
On Oct. 4, 2016, after several media reports about the pending Wikileaks document dump, Stone publicly tweeted, “Payload coming. #Lockthemup.” On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks “began to release emails that had been hacked from [Hillary Clinton campaign manager] John Podesta’s personal email account,” the FBI said.
On October 13, 2016, “while WikiLeaks was in the midst of releasing the hacked [Democratic] emails,” the FBI wrote in one affidavit, the Twitter account @RogerJStoncJr “sent a private direct message to the Twitter account @wikileaks.” The message read: “Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending WikiLeaks and assange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to rexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R.”
Less than an hour later, the FBI said, @wikileaks responded by direct message: “We appreciate that. However, the false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.”
On or about October 15, 2016, the FBI alleged, @RogerJStoneJr sent a direct message to @wikileaks: “Ha! The more you \”correct\” me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.” On or about November 9, 2016, “one day after the presidential election, @wikileaks sent a direct message to @RogerJStoneJr containing a single word: ‘Happy?’ @wikileaks immediately followed up with another message less than a minute later: ‘We are now more free to communicate.'”
In a June 2017 Twitter direct message cited in the records, Stone reassured Assange, “As a journalist it doesn’t matter where you get information only that it is accurate and authentic.”
He cited as an example the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that facilitated the publishing by newspapers of the Pentagon Papers, classified government documents about the Vietnam War.
“If the US government moves on you I will bring down the entire house of cards,” Stone wrote, according to a transcript of the message cited in the search warrant affidavit. “With the trumped-up sexual assault charges dropped I don’t know of any crime you need to be pardoned for — best regards. R.”
Stone was likely referring to a sexual assault investigation dropped by Swedish authorities. Assange, who at the time was holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, was charged last year with a series of crimes by the U.S. Justice Department, including Espionage Act violations for allegedly directing former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.
According to the documents, Assange, who is imprisoned in London and is fighting his extradition to the United States, responded to Stone’s 2017 Twitter message by saying: “Between CIA and DoJ they’re doing quite a lot. On the DoJ side that’s coming most strongly from those obsessed with taking down Trump trying to squeeze us into a deal.”
Stone replied in June 2017 that he was doing everything possible to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”
“I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of government,” Stone wrote to Assange, apparently referring to the ongoing U.S. probe into Assange and the possibility of a presidential pardon if he were arrested and extradited. “Fed treatment of you and WikiLeaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored.”
“Appreciated. Of course it is!” Assange responded.
The documents also show the extent of the FBI’s surveillance, which included monitoring essentially all of Stone’s Google and Apple services, from email to browsing history. Utility bills, address books, financial transactions, encryption keys and passwords, WhatsApp messages, phone call toll records — all were also under the bureau’s review.
Apple, for example, had to turn over “the contents of all emails associated with the account, including stored or preserved copies of emails sent to and from the account, draft emails, the source and destination addresses associated with each email, the date and time at which each email was sent, and the size and length of each email.”
Additionally, records illustrate the Trump campaign’s curiosity about what information WikiLeaks was going to make public — and reinforce Mueller’s conclusion that the Trump team didn’t conspire with WikiLeaks or Russian hackers to obtain the materials, although some Trump operatives speculated they could benefit from them.
Former White House adviser Steve Bannon told Mueller’s team under questioning that he had asked Stone about WikiLeaks because he had heard that Stone had a channel to Assange, and he was hoping for more releases of damaging information.
FILE – This Feb. 21, 2019, file courtroom sketch shows former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump, Roger Stone talking from the witness stand as prosecution attorney Jonathan Kravis, standing left, Stone’s attorney Bruce Rogow, third from right, and Judge Amy Berman Jackson listen, during a court hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington. Kravis will run a new public corruption unit at the District of Columbia Office of the Attorney General, which has jurisdiction over juvenile offenses as well as misdemeanor crimes. (Dana Verkouteren via AP, File)
Mueller’s investigation identified contacts during the 2016 campaign between Trump associates and Russians, but did not identify any conspiracy to tip the outcome of the presidential election. The lengthy investigation fueled numerous conspiracy theories that aired regularly on MSNBC and CNN, as well as in print in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere.
In a statement Tuesday, Stone acknowledged that the search warrant affidavits contain private communication, but insisted that they “prove no crimes.”
“I have no trepidation about their release as they confirm there was no illegal activity and certainly no Russian collusion by me during the 2016 Election,” Stone said. “There is, to this day, no evidence that I had or knew about the source or content of the Wikileaks disclosures prior to their public release.”
Stone continued: “The search warrants ordered released today by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper proves the baseless over-reach of the Mueller witch hunt and exonerate me from the crazed left-wing media charges of Russian collusion, Wikileaks collaboration and the receipt and dissemination of stolen e-mails, false narratives that ruined my life for the last 3 years. …
Nearly every day, I would turn on the news and open the papers and read that I had committed treason against our great country, that I would be charged with espionage, trafficking in stolen e-mails and other cyber-crimes.
Ultimately, despite the colonoscopy into my life, the Muller investigation could not find what the media wanted and insisted was there or that I did anything wrong in the 2016 election of my friend, President Donald Trump. Although I was not part of his formal campaign, I worked hard-and legally-to help elect the President.”
Stone added that the “Government admitted in discovery in my trial that they relied on a redacted draft memo from Crowdstike- hardly an unbiased or credible source and the Government admitted the FBI never inspected the DNC servers. Screenshots of a computer server are like photos of a murder weapon-they cannot be examined.
The sur-reply filed by former Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Kravis claiming the Mueller investigators had additional proof that the Russians hacked the DNC, included none of the alleged proof and was a fraud upon the Court. I was barred by Judge Jackson from proving this at trial through the production of forensic evidence and the testimony of experts such as former NSA Russia specialist and Technical Director, Bill Binney.”
“There is, to this day, no evidence that I had or knew about the source or content of the Wikileaks disclosures prior to their public release.”— Roger Stone
Indeed, the “much-publicized raid and exhaustive 13- hour search of my home and office yielded no evidence used against me at trial,” Stone concluded.
“When no evidence of Russian collusion, collaboration with Wikileaks, receipt or dissemination of stolen e-mails- including the stolen e-mails of John Podesta – was found, I was charged with lying to Congress even though there was no underlying crime to lie about and the Trump campaign’s interest in the already announced Wikileaks disclosures was a matter of public record. Testifying voluntary I had no intent or motive to lie as the matters I am charged with lying about were already in the public domain.”
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in February sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison in a case that exposed fissures inside the Justice Department — the entire trial team quit the case amid a dispute over the recommended punishment — and between Trump and Attorney General William Barr, who said the president’s tweets about ongoing cases made his job “impossible.”
The prosecutors who quit the Stone case objected after senior DOJ officials overrode their recommendation to the Jackson that Stone face up to nine years in prison. In its amended sentencing recommendation after the original prosecutors stepped down, the government that while it was “technically” possible to argue that Stone deserved the severe federal sentencing enhancement for threatening physical harm to a witness, such a move would violate the spirit of the federal guidelines.
It would place Stone in a category of the guidelines that “typically applies in cases involving violent offenses, such as armed robbery, not obstruction cases,” the government argued, noting that Stone’s “advanced age, health, personal circumstances, and lack of criminal history” also counseled against the harsh penalty.
Specifically, prosecutors said that although Stone had allegedly threatened witness Randy Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca — saying he was “going to take that dog away from you” — it was important to recognize that Credico, a New York radio host, has acknowledged that he “never in any way felt that Stone himself posed a direct physical threat to me or my dog.”
Jackson, while taking a firm stance toward Stone in the courtroom, ultimately agreed with the DOJ that the up to nine years originally sought by federal prosecutors was excessive.
Her sentence of 40 months in prison was considerably less than that — yet far more than the probation sought by his defense.
Fox News’ Marisa Sarnoff and David Spunt, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.Gregg Re is a lawyer and editor based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter @gregg_re or email him at [email protected]