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Roger Stone, a former advisor to President Donald Trump, leaves the Federal Courthouse on January 25, 2019 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

4 takeaways from Trump confidant Roger Stone’s indictment

President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant and former campaign adviser Roger Stone was indicted Friday for lying to Congress and obstructing the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

The 24-page indictment laid out Stone’s role as a middleman between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, identified in the document as “Organization 1,” and which released stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in the run-up to the election.

Hours after the FBI arrested him at his home Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on Friday morning, Stone appeared in federal court and was released on bond. Stone is expected in court in Washington, D.C., next week.

Here are key takeaways from the charges against Stone:

Stone lied to Congress about his contacts with Wikileaks and the Trump campaign

In 2017 the special counsel indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for stealing emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign and passing them to WikiLeaks. In a September 2017 hearing, according to the indictment, Stone gave “false and misleading statements” about his contacts with Wikileaks and the Trump campaign to the House Intelligence Committee. At the hearing — and in public interviews — Stone claimed he didn’t communicate with the campaign about WikiLeaks.

That was untrue; Stone corresponded numerous times with WikiLeaks, an intermediary, and the Trump campaign about the hacked emails, the indictment shows. Stone’s communication with the campaign about WikiLeaks started in the summer of 2016 and ran through the final weeks of the election.

In an October 2016 exchange with a person identified in the indictment as “a supporter involved with the Trump campaign,” Stone wrote that he “spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was not mentioned by name in the indictment, but he has been living at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, and Stone has claimed publicly that he spoke with Assange during the election. The special counsel also said Stone communicated with “senior Trump Campaign officials” about the hacked emails, though the indictment didn’t name the officials.

The indictment made no direct link between Stone and Trump

Stone, who made his name as a political operative on President Richard Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign, has been an informal adviser to Trump for decades. He has long boasted of helping lay the groundwork for Trump’s political rise, and served briefly as a campaign adviser before being fired in mid-2015.

Stone has reportedly continued speaking to Trump since then, including after the election. In a 2017 interview with the Washington Post, Stone said he talks to the president “from time to time.” Stone has also drawn praise from Trump on Twitter for saying that he would refuse to testify against him.

But the indictment does not say Stone spoke directly with Trump about WikiLeaks. The special counsel said Stone was contacted by “senior Trump Campaign officials” about WikiLeaks about information that “would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.” The indictment does not identify the campaign officials. Emails obtained by the New York Times last year show Stone discussed WikiLeaks with Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign chairman during the general election.

It’s possible that Stone communicated directly with Trump about WikiLeaks and Robert Mueller either has not found evidence of it yet, or perhaps his team does have a smoking gun but chose not to include in Friday’s indictment. Or it may simply be that Stone and Trump never discussed the matter.

Mueller takes witness tampering seriously — a potentially bad sign for Trump

The special counsel charged Stone with witness tampering, saying he urged an individual — referred to in the indictment as “Person 2” and identified in news reports as radio host Randy Credico — to lie to Congress about his communication with WikiLeaks. Stone also told Credico not to cooperate with FBI investigators and called him a “rat” and a “stoolie,” according to the indictment.

The witness tampering charge was just one of seven counts against Stone, and will likely draw less attention than his false testimony about contacts with WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. Still, it suggests Mueller sees witness tampering as an important part of his Russia probe, which includes investigating whether Trump has attempted to obstruct justice. Legal experts have argued that Trump’s attacks on Twitter against his former lawyer Michael Cohen, as well as his praise for former campaign officials amount to witness tampering.

Mueller continues racking up indictments

Stone’s indictment was the first in several months from the special counsel’s office. But it adds to a growing list of former Trump campaign or administration officials that have been charged with crimes and pleaded guilty, or been convicted in connection to the Russia probe. The list includes Paul Manafort, who served as the Trump campaign chairman; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and Cohen, who this week canceled a February appearance before House lawmakers — citing “threats” from Trump against his family — before being subpoenaed by a Senate committee yesterday.

Trump has continued insisting the Russia investigation is a political witch hunt. But that position, while popular with his base, is undermined with each new indictment by the special counsel. Polls show a majority of Americans want Mueller to finish his investigation and believe his final report should be made public.

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