- Special counsel Robert Mueller is said to be asking Paul Manafort for information on the GOP strategist Roger Stone.
- Mueller’s questions likely focus on whether Manafort has any knowledge of whether or not Stone knew in advance of WikiLeaks’ plans to dump batches of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign.
- Stone told Business Insider he is “unconcerned” about the development, adding that he believes Mueller has no evidence against him “because none exists.”
- Stone appears to be girding for the possibility that he may be charged in the Russia investigation.
- He is seeking donations to a legal defence fund and will announce new additions to his legal team after the November midterms.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is asking Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, for information about the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone, ABC News reported.
Manafort has been cooperating with the ongoing Russia investigation since September, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
He is arguably the most significant cooperating witness to date, given his prominent role on the Trump campaign during a pivotal time in the 2016 election season.
Manafort was the chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign when he offered a Russian oligarch “private briefings” on Trump’s bid. He was one of three top Trump campaign officials to attend a meeting with two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at the height of the campaign.
And he was leading the campaign when the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks began dumping thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been stolen by Russian operatives.
Mueller has in recent months zeroed in on Stone’s links to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks published thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign at the height of the 2016 election. The US intelligence community believes the breaches and subsequent dissemination of emails were carried out on the Kremlin’s orders.
When prosecutors indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in July on conspiracy and hacking charges, they referenced WikiLeaks – though not by name – as the Russians’ conduit to release stolen documents via the hacker Guccifer 2.0, who is believed to be a front for Russian military intelligence.
Manafort was the chairman of Trump’s campaign amid the Russian hacking effort.
WikiLeaks dumped the first batch of hacked Democratic emails on July 22, 2016. Days later, on August 2, Manafort met with the Russian military intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik and later said they discussed the Trump campaign and the DNC hack. Kilimnik said they did not discuss the campaign but talked about “current events” and “unpaid bills,” believed to be a reference to Manafort’s financial debt to the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
On August 21, Stone blasted out a tweet that said, “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel,” an apparent reference to Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
WikiLeaks published a batch of hacked emails from Podesta’s account days later.
Stone’s tweet and several others raised questions about whether he had prior knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans.
Stone denies knowing about the document dump in advance.
“Mr. Mueller has no evidence whatsoever of Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration, advance notice of the acquisition and publication of John Podesta’s emails or any other illegal activity pertaining to the 2016 election, because none exists,” he told Business Insider in an earlier statement.
The GOP strategist is known to have been in direct communication with WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 during the election, and it’s likely Mueller’s questions to Manafort drill down on ties between Stone and WikiLeaks.
Stone said he has communicated indirectly with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in the past through the radio host Randy Credico. Credico denies the claim, and he said following a grand jury appearance in September that prosecutors had demonstrated interest in Stone’s statement.
In addition to Credico, Mueller has questioned nearly a dozen of Stone’s associates, and many of them later appeared before a federal grand jury.
Asked about his thoughts on what Mueller may be asking Manafort, Stone replied, “I am unconcerned,” and referenced the statement he made when Manafort’s cooperation deal was first announced.
“It has no bearing on me,” he said at the time.
But Stone appears to be girding for the possibility that he will be indicted. Business Insider reported earlier this year that he is planning on expanding his legal team and continues to solicit donations to a legal defence fund. He told Business Insider on Wednesday that he will announce the new additions to his team after the November midterm elections.