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 documents — FBI affidavits submitted to obtain search warrants in the criminal investigation into Stone — highlighted Stone’s hard-charging tactics as he sought to obtain information relevant to Trump.
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 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; he admitted as much 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 hacked by Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
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 that the issue was “still nonsense” and said “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 that he was doing everything possible to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”
The documents showe the extent of the FBI’s surveillance, which included monitoring essentially all of Stone’s Apple services, from email to browsing history. Utility bills, address books, WhatsApp messages — all were also under the bureau’s review.
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. 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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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’ David Spunt, and the Associated Press, contributed to this report.