Mueller digs for Trump ally's connections to WikiLeaks
WASHINGTON - In recent weeks, a grand jury in Washington has listened to more than a dozen hours of testimony and FBI technicians have pored over gigabytes of electronic messages as part of the special counsel's quest to solve one burning mystery: Did longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone - or any other associate of the president - have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016?
While outwardly quiet for the last month, Robert S. Mueller III's investigators have been aggressively pursuing leads behind the scenes about whether Stone was in communication with the online group, whose disclosures of emails believed to have been hacked by Russian operatives disrupted the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the special counsel probe.
Stone, who boasted during the race that he was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has said since that his past comments were exaggerated or misunderstood. Both he and WikiLeaks have adamantly denied they were in contact.
However, prosecutors are closely examining both public comments and alleged private assertions that Stone made in 2016 suggesting he had a way to reach Assange, the people said.
Last month, Randy Credico, a onetime Stone friend, told the grand jury that the Trump loyalist confided during the 2016 campaign that he had a secret back channel to WikiLeaks, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In a series of interviews with The Washington Post, Stone said his only connection to the group was through Credico, a liberal comedian who had hosted Assange on his New York radio program in 2016.
The special counsel's prosecutors have also zeroed in on Stone's relationship with conservative journalist and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, examining whether he served as a conduit between Stone and Assange, according to another person familiar with their interest. Corsi appeared before Mueller's grand jury last month, and FBI agents have recently been seeking to interview Corsi's associates, according to the person.
In addition, investigators have scrutinized Stone's communications with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks, according to people familiar with the probe.
One apparent line of inquiry: whether Stone lied to Congress about his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks during the presidential race, according to the people.
The question of whether Trump associates were in contact with WikiLeaks is at the heart of Mueller's inquiry. According to charges filed by the special counsel in July, Russian military intelligence officers used an online persona called Guccifer 2.0 to distribute hacked Democratic emails through WikiLeaks. The Russian operatives also used Guccifer 2.0's Twitter account to send messages to Stone, who has said the exchanges were benign.
The online organization has said it had no contact with Stone. "WikiLeaks & Assange have repeatedly confirmed that they have never communicated with Stone," the organization tweeted in March 2017.
Stone told The Post that Credico "was my principal source regarding the allegedly hacked emails published by WikiLeaks," a claim Credico has denied. Stone added that one of his remarks in 2016 predicting that WikiLeaks was about to release information related to Clinton was informed by another journalist's tip that he was forwarded by an associate.
Stone called Mueller's investigation illegitimate and said the special counsel, who has interviewed at least seven of his associates, is trying to pressure him to flip on President Donald Trump.
"The special counsel pokes into every aspect of my social, family, personal, business and political life, seeking something - anything - he can use to pressure me, to silence me and to try to induce me to testify against my friend Donald Trump," Stone said in a recent videotaped fundraising appeal. "This I will not do. When I say I won't roll on the president, what I mean is I will not be forced to make up lies to bring him down."
A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.
Questions about Stone's possible connection to WikiLeaks were stoked by encouraging comments he made after the group released thousands of hacked emails from key Democratic figures, beginning on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in July 2016.
The following month, Stone began predicting that WikiLeaks would strike again before the election. In a widely reported speech to a Republican group in South Florida in early August 2016, Stone boasted: "I actually have communicated with Assange."
Then, on Aug. 21, he tweeted, "Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta's time in the barrel." Six weeks later, WikiLeaks began posting online emails stolen from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Stone now says his tweet was a reference to opposition research he got from Corsi about the business dealings of Podesta and his brother, Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta.
Two days after his Podesta tweet, Stone appeared on Credico's radio program. Credico asked whether an "October surprise" was coming and stated that Stone had "been in touch and indirectly with Julian Assange," according to a clip obtained by CNN.
"I don't want to intimate in any way that I control or have influence with the Assange because I do not," Stone responded on the show. "We have a mutual friend, somebody we both trust and therefore I am a recipient of pretty good information."
Stone now says he was referring to Credico. "I certainly couldn't out Randy on his own radio show, but the person I refer to is of course him," he told The Post. "He is in on the joke from the beginning."
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