By Carlo Versano
A month before the 2016 presidential election, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's campaign chair, emailed Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally and informal adviser, with a question. Bannon wanted to know what was going on with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who had been publicly hinting that he was in possession of a trove of documents that could upend the presidential race.
Stone replied, according to emails reviews by The New York Times: "A load every week going forward," an apparent indication that Stone was in communication with Assange about the potentially damaging material. (Stone later said he was making a prediction based on publicly available information.)
Early Friday morning, FBI agents in riot gear arrested Stone at his Florida home. He was charged with five counts of making false statements, one count of witness tampering and one count of obstruction, related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the election.
Appearing in federal court mid-day Friday for the first time, Stone reportedly appeared tired and disheveled as he sat shackled in front of a federal judge. Stone was released on a $250,000 signature bond, meaning he will not have to pay anything so long as he doesn't miss any court appearances.
Outside the federal courthouse in Ft. Lauderdale, Stone appeared in good spirits, flashing a Nixon-esque "victory" sign as protesters chanted "Lock him Up!" and supporters cheered. "As I have always said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
Stone also denied the charges in the indictment. "I will plead not guilty to these charges," he said. "I will defeat them in court." Stone said he would never testify against President Trump if asked.
Stone, who had said publicly that he was expecting to be indicted by Mueller, has long wielded his self-appointed title of "dirty trickster" to great effect in the media. A flamboyant figure, Stone got his initiation into politics as a campaign aide to Richard Nixon, and likes to flaunt a tattoo he has of Nixon's face on his back.
In the indictment, Stone is accused of acting as a conduit between "Organization 1," believed to be WikiLeaks, and "senior Trump campaign officials" in the summer before the election. The indictment alleges that, after WikiLeaks dumped its first set of DNC emails in July 2016, the Trump campaign contacted Stone to inquire about future releases.
“A senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign. Stone thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1," the indictment said.
Last year, Stone said on "Meet the Press" that he was prepared to be arrested as part of the special counsel's investigation, but echoed President Trump's position that it was a politically motivated witch hunt:
“But I think it just demonstrates, again, this was supposed to be about Russian collusion, and it appears to be an effort to silence or punish the president’s supporters and his advocates," he said.
The pre-dawn raid on Stone's home was captured on video by CNN, showing armed FBI agents approaching the door.
FBI agents are among the furloughed federal workers going without pay during the government shutdown.