On Thursday, President Trump denied ever having urged along Roger Stone’s efforts to get information from WikiLeaks.
The reason this is such a big question is because of Roger Stone’s week-old indictment. In that document, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team noted that after the initial June 2016 dump of WikiLeaks documents, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE” about WikiLeaks and its future releases.
The passive voice loomed large. Many other people in these documents are alluded to using titles such as “senior official” and “high-ranking official,” but in this case Mueller’s team isn’t saying who “directed” that senior campaign official, despite having evidence that the person was directed by someone.
It’s difficult to dismiss that as some coincidence, drafting error or a careless choice of words. The people who write these things parse them endlessly, and had to know that line would stick out.
Considering that, some have theorized it’s a reference to Trump himself. Who else would direct a “senior Trump Campaign official,” after all?
Of course, it’s possible it was someone else at the top of the campaign, or that the identity of the person simply isn’t known. Maybe that senior Trump campaign official spoke with Mueller’s team and remembered being directed to reach out to Stone but not who told him or her to do so. But including that allegation based on one account would be dicey. These documents need to be bulletproof. And if there is documentation or corroboration, how likely is it that who did the directing is also unclear?
There are myriad examples of the Mueller team doing things that turn out to be conspicuous for a reason. There was the time the team emphasized that Paul Manafort’s associate in Ukraine, Konstantin Kilimnik, had ties to Russian intelligence not just in general (as it had said previously) but also “had such ties in 2016.” We recently found out Mueller was indeed probing Manafort’s contacts with Kilimnik related to the campaign.
It was also conspicuous that Mueller chose to cut a plea deal with Michael Cohen on one specific lie, related to the Trump Tower Moscow effort. Now we’ve come to find out that’s a significant avenue of interest for Mueller. So sometimes these hints are hints for a reason.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that this is definitely an allusion to Trump. We simply don’t know and can’t know. What we do know now is that Trump has denied it, with almost no wiggle room.
Those denials, though, haven’t always held up. You’ll recall Trump (after much probing) eventually denied knowledge of Cohen’s hush-money payments during the 2016 election campaign. Except he did know of them.
There’s an argument to be made that perhaps that denial operated in some gray area. Trump said he didn’t know about the payment to Stormy Daniels, but perhaps he meant he didn’t know the details of it. He said he didn’t know where the money came from. Perhaps he could argue that on a technicality, he didn’t know how Cohen paid it.
This latest denial, though, would be almost impossible to explain away. Trump clearly said he isn’t the one who directed anyone to tell Stone to be in contact with WikiLeaks. Mueller’s team seems to have evidence when it comes to whoever did. One false denial might be easier to explain away; two would be much more difficult.
It may seem unfair to ask whether Trump is falsely denying this. But his reputation precedes him on this one.