Cohen is now in prison for lying to Congress, as well as financial and campaign finance crimes. Cohen got a reduced sentence after having turned against his former boss, providing information about secret hush-money payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump and about the inner workings of the Trump campaign. Stone is awaiting sentencing after being convicted in November on seven counts of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Stone didn’t turn on Trump, and Trump, in return, has risen to Stone’s defense. On Tuesday, he publicly upbraided the Justice Department for seeking a sentence of seven to nine years for his ally. Shortly afterward, the Justice Department announced plans to soften its proposal — a shift that prompted the entire prosecutorial team involved in the Stone conviction to resign.
Trump continued his defenses of Stone on Wednesday while talking to reporters in the Oval Office.
“Nobody even knows what he did,” Trump said of Stone’s convictions. “In fact, they said he intimidated somebody. That person said he had no idea he was going to jail for that. That person didn’t want to press charges. They put him in for nine years. It’s a disgrace.”
A bit later, he returned to this point: What did Stone even do?
“Nine years for doing something that nobody even can define what he did,” Trump said. “Somebody said he put out a tweet, and the tweet, you based it on that. We have killers, we have murderers all over the place, nothing happens — and then they put a man in jail and destroy his life, his family, his wife, his children. Nine years in jail.”
Stone probably won’t serve nine years in jail and, in fact, is not currently incarcerated. Trump is being hyperbolic, as he tends to be, to emphasize how unfair such treatment of Stone would be. This is also why he’s claiming that Stone’s crimes are murky, to prompt people to wonder why someone so clearly innocent should face so harsh a punishment.
This is disingenuous, if not dishonest. What Stone did is well-documented. It was also done in service to Trump, something of which Trump is certainly aware.
Stone had a formal role with Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign until August 2015, when Trump’s battle with then-Fox News personality Megyn Kelly drove the two apart. From that point on, he was one of a series of informal advisers who was in regular contact with the candidate.
Stone’s role, though, was unique. According to Cohen, Stone gave Trump a heads-up on a significant development in the campaign: the release by WikiLeaks in July 2016 of material stolen from the Democratic National Committee by Russian hackers. Cohen claims that he overheard Stone informing Trump of the release, prompting Trump to say something along the lines of “wouldn’t that be great?”
When the material was released a few days later, it was, in fact, good for Trump, roiling the campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Stone was tapped to provide any future information about what WikiLeaks was doing. The grand jury indictment against Stone, obtained by prosecutors working for then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, details those instructions.
“After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by [WikiLeaks],” it reads, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by [WikiLeaks].”
That passive-tense “was directed” has inspired a great number of questions, given that it suggests Trump’s own involvement. (After all, who else could direct senior campaign officials?)
It’s not clear, though, that Stone actually had connections to WikiLeaks. He claimed to multiple times over the summer of 2016 and reached out to people who he thought might, including conservative columnist Jerome Corsi and radio host Randy Credico. But no direct link to WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, has been shown.
Proving such a link was made more difficult by Stone’s repeated efforts to mislead congressional investigators. The indictment that led to Stone’s conviction on charges of lying to Congress details six occasions on which Stone provided untrue information, ranging from denying that he had emails in which he contacted individuals about WikiLeaks to saying that he didn’t ask anyone to communicate with Assange to denying that he’d discussed his outreach to WikiLeaks with anyone from the Trump campaign.
That last point was easy to disprove. A few days before WikiLeaks began releasing material stolen from Clinton’s campaign chairman on Oct. 7, 2016, then-Trump campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon emailed Stone to ask what was coming. Stone replied that there would be “a load every week going forward,” according to the indictment — a prediction that ended up being largely accurate.
Through his attorneys, Trump was asked by Mueller’s team whether he knew about WikiLeaks’s releases in advance. He claimed not to recall any conversations with Stone about upcoming releases.
At Stone’s trial, prosecutors made clear what they saw as his motivation for lying to Congress and, later, pressuring Credico not to testify honestly about their interactions.
“The evidence in this case will show that Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump,” prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky said during his opening statement.
At the conclusion of the trial, prosecutor Jonathan Kravis echoed that sentiment.
“He knew that if the truth came out about what he was doing in 2016, it would look terrible,” he said. “Roger Stone knew that if this information came out, it would look really bad for his longtime associate Donald Trump.”
Zelinsky and Kravis are two of the four members of the prosecutorial team who resigned their positions Tuesday after Trump called for a lighter sentence for Stone.
It is clearly the case that Stone’s false statements were aimed at protecting Trump, to at least some extent. He testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Sept. 26, 2017, a few months after Trump had fired FBI Director James B. Comey and Mueller had been appointed to consider whether Trump’s campaign had coordinated with Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 campaign. By denying his own contacts with WikiLeaks during the hearing, Stone prevented the public from knowing about a possible connection between Trump and that Russian effort.
This was, after all, the guy who had advocated for Trump to run in 2012. The guy who’d encouraged and then worked for Trump’s aborted exploratory bid before the 2000 election. Trump’s longtime ally.
“If you testify you’re a fool,” Stone texted Credico at one point as he tried to pressure his acquaintance to stay quiet, according to the indictment. “Because of [Trump] I could never get away with a certain [sic] my Fifth Amendment rights but you can.” At another point, he told Credico to “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan.”
He added, “Richard Nixon” — a reference to another president who was shielded by loyal allies. Stone, as you may know, has a large tattoo of Nixon on his back.