John Podesta, the chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, served as counselor to President Barack Obama and chief of staff to President Bill Clinton.
Despite my Italian roots, vengeance doesn’t run deep in my veins. But I admit I smiled when Roger Stone’s arrest was announced Friday morning.
To give some context: On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks began leaking emails from my personal inbox that had been hacked by Russian intelligence operatives. A few days earlier, Stone — a longtime Republican operative and close confidant of then-candidate Donald Trump — had mysteriously predicted that the organization would reveal damaging information about the Clinton campaign. And weeks before that, he’d even tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
Stone’s connection with and boasting about WikiLeaks during the campaign has always been fishy. But thanks to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, the truth is finally coming out. Friday’s indictment alleges that a senior campaign official “was directed” (and by whom?) to contact Stone about the WikiLeaks releases even after it was widely reported that they were a Russian hacking operation.
Revenge aside, the accusations against Stone are serious. He faces a seven-count indictment: five counts of false statements, one count of obstruction and one count of witness tampering.
The details of the indictment are devastating and, characteristically of Stone, quite colorful. According to the filing, Stone emailed a confederate labeled “Person 2” (identified by the media as radio host Randy Credico) to dissuade him from testifying truthfully about WikiLeaks before the House Intelligence Committee: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds” and “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die [expletive].” Stone instructs Person 2 to do a “Frank Pentangeli” — a character from “The Godfather Part II” who famously lies to congressional investigators — and, my nostalgic favorite, Stone paraphrases a quote from President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate coverup: “Stonewall it. Plead the Fifth. Anything to save the plan.”
To anyone keeping abreast of the unfolding events in the Mueller investigation, this level of sleaze is not at all surprising. The walls have been closing in for some time. As a key member of Trump’s inner circle, Stone and his course of conduct during the campaign and after have exemplified a culture of cronyism and corruption that ignored all ethical standards and rewarded fabrication over the hard truth of reality.
It was all obvious during the campaign and from President Trump’s first full day in office, when he sent out the hapless Sean Spicer to lie to the media about the size of his inauguration audience, that the president would establish an administration in which lying and intimidation were the default way of doing business. When it comes to lying, Trump is in a league of his own. The Post reported this week that he has made 8,158 false or misleading claims in his first two years in office. Sadly, his culture of deceit was embraced by (or forced upon) the people around him and his apologists on Capitol Hill.
Those caught up in the Mueller probe include former national security adviser Michael Flynn, guilty of lying to the FBI; foreign policy campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, guilty of lying to the FBI; lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, guilty of lying to the FBI; deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, guilty of conspiracy and lying to the FBI ; former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, guilty of lying to Congress; former campaign manager Paul Manafort, guilty of conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct justice; and, if the facts of his indictment are true, now Stone. Stone denied the allegations Friday.
The remaining West Wing staff and the president’s family must be looking over their shoulders, wondering whether, in adopting the Trump style, they have traded a fancy West Wing office for a cell.