Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III unveiled criminal charges Friday against Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Trump’s, accusing him of lying, obstruction and witness tampering in one of the longest legal sagas of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In charging Stone, Mueller has struck deep inside Trump’s inner circle. The indictment charges that Stone, a seasoned Republican political operative, sought to gather information about hacked Democratic Party emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official and engaged in extensive efforts to keep secret the details of those actions.

The 24-page document goes further than Mueller ever has toward answering the core question of his probe: Did Trump or those close to him try to conspire with the Kremlin? The indictment notes that before Stone’s alleged actions in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee announced it had been hacked by Russian government operatives, implying that Stone must have known that.

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It does not allege Stone conspired with anyone but suggests his mission was to find out how the stolen material would be made public — something that, on its own, would not necessarily constitute a crime.

Indicting Stone caps one of the special counsel’s longest pursuits since his appointment in May 2017, but it remains uncertain whether Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation.

After the early-morning arrest at his Florida home, Stone appeared briefly in federal court in Fort Lauderdale wearing a navy blue polo shirt, jeans and steel shackles on his wrists and ankles. The judge ordered him released on a $250,000 bond.

Stone later stood on the courthouse steps, striking the famous pose of his personal hero, the late former president Richard M. Nixon, by raising his arms high and making V-for-victory signs with his fingers.

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“I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court,” he said to a crowd of about 300 reporters, supporters and detractors. Some in the crowd jeered and chanted “Lock him up!” Others expressed solidarity.

“There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself. I look forward to being fully and completely vindicated,” Stone said. “I will not testify against the president, because I would have to bear false witness.”

Stone told The Washington Post that he and Trump “never discussed any of these matters.” He insisted he played no intermediary role between the campaign and the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which published the hacked emails, and denied that any campaign official asked him to make overtures to the group, as Mueller has alleged.

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Prosecutors, he said, “obviously think I’m the O.G., but I’m not,” Stone said, using a slang expression meaning “original gangster.”

Trump tweeted angrily after the arrest: “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better.” The president also suggested someone may have tipped off CNN to record Stone’s arrest, though there were growing signs the day before that Stone could be charged soon.

The indictment centers on Stone’s efforts to learn when potentially damaging emails internal to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign would be released by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ leader. U.S. officials say Russian intelligence agents hacked Democrats’ email accounts and shared the stolen emails with WikiLeaks, which publicized them during the election’s final months.

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“After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails . . . a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign,” the indictment states. “Stone thereafter told the Trump campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.”

People familiar with the case said Organization 1 is WikiLeaks. The indictment does not identify the senior Trump campaign official, nor does it say who allegedly directed the senior campaign official to contact Stone.

After the presidential election, according to the indictment, Stone tried to cover up what he had done by lying about it in his testimony to Congress and attempting to persuade another witness, identified only as “Person 2,” to refuse to talk to the House Intelligence Committee. People close to the case said Person 2 is New York comedian Randy Credico.

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As Credico prepared for possible testimony before the Intelligence Committee, Stone repeatedly pressed him not to reveal anything that would suggest Stone had misled the committee in his earlier denials, according to the indictment. In December 2017, authorities charge, Stone used a reference to one of the “Godfather” movies to try to keep Credico quiet.

“Stone told Person 2 that Person 2 should do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’ before [the committee] in order to avoid contradicting Stone’s testimony,” the indictment charges, adding: “Frank Pentangeli is a character in the film The Godfather: Part II, which both Stone and Person 2 had discussed, who testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know.”

In the film, the Pentangeli character publicly declares “I don’t know nothin’ about that” when asked about his career in the Mafia.

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Martin Stolar, a lawyer for Credico, declined to comment.

Stone, 66, who has been friends with Trump for four decades, served briefly as an adviser to the presidential campaign in 2015 and then remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election.

Trump’s legal team said the Stone case posed no legal jeopardy for the president.

“Another false-statement case? God almighty,” said Trump’s lead attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani. “They do have some alleged false statements, and I don’t want to minimize that. That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that. But there is no evidence of anything else but false statements. The president is safe here.”

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Stone’s case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia, the same judge hearing the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Stone is expected to appear in court in Washington on Tuesday.

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Separately, agents also moved to search Stone’s New York City apartment, according to friends of his there.

During the White House race, Stone publicly cheered on WikiLeaks as it released hacked emails embarrassing to Clinton, calling Assage “my hero.”

Last year, people familiar with the investigation of Assange said there are sealed criminal charges against him, but it is unclear whether those relate to his 2016 activities or prior disclosures of U.S. government secrets.

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Barry Pollack, a U.S.-based attorney for Assange, said in an email: “The charges against Mr. Stone do not allege that Mr. Stone lied about his contacts with Julian Assange, but rather about his contacts with others and about documents reflecting those communications.”

In July, a grand jury indicted 12 Russian military officers on charges that they orchestrated the hacks and distributed pilfered documents to WikiLeaks and other groups.

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After the election, Stone acknowledged exchanging what he characterized as benign messages with Guccifer 2.0, a Twitter persona that U.S. intelligence officials say was a front operated by the Russian military officers.

But Stone has repeatedly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. He has said he had no advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks held, adding that predictions he made about the group’s plans were based on Assange’s public comments and tips from associates.

In sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee last year, Stone also denied having any contact with WikiLeaks or knowledge of its plans, saying he did not intend to imply he had communicated with Assange directly.

WikiLeaks and Assange have said they never communicated with Stone. During the campaign, Stone privately told associates that he was in contact with Assange and that WikiLeaks had material that would be damaging to Clinton. In an October 2016 email to Trump’s then-campaign chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, Stone implied he had information about the group’s plans.

Bannon’s lawyer declined to comment.

In recent months, Stone has offered conflicting accounts of who provided him tips about WikiLeaks’ plans — first identifying Credico as his source and then acknowledging he also received information from conservative writer Jerome Corsi.

Stone’s indictment leaves unclear whether Mueller plans to charge Corsi with lying to investigators about his interactions with Stone. Last year, Corsi was nearing a plea deal with prosecutors but balked and accused them of trying to force him to say something untrue.

Corsi is not identified by name in the Stone indictment, which instead refers to him as “Person 1.” His attorneys issued a statement Friday saying the indictment “is accurate with regard to references to Dr. Corsi” and his testimony.

With Stone’s indictment, the special-counsel investigation has now led to charges against 34 people and guilty pleas from six Trump associates and advisers, including Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael R. Flynn, former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

None of those charges have included specific allegations that Trump associates conspired with Russia to interfere in the election.

Stone got his start in politics working for Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign and sports a tattoo on his back of the disgraced ex-president. Since then, he has advised Republican and Libertarian candidates, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson. He also helped reshape Washington lobbying, founding a successful firm in the 1980s with Manafort that represented top companies and foreign governments.

Rozsa reported from Fort Lauderdale. John Wagner, Tom Hamburger, Robert Costa, Matt Zapotosky, Spencer S. Hsu and Tim Elfrink in Washington and Leonard Shapiro in Fort Lauderdale contributed to this report.