Judicial Watch Inside Report: Indictments against Roger Stone are ‘Watered Down,’ Don’t Involve Conspiracy w/ Russia
January 31, 2019
In this episode of “Judicial Watch Inside Report,” Chuck Ross, an investigative reporter for The Daily Caller, discusses the recent indictments against political operative Roger Stone in relation to alleged collusion between Trump & Russia during the 2016 election.
BRUCE SCHLESMAN: Hello and welcome to Judicial Watch Inside Report. I’m your host, Bruce Schlesman. With me today we have Chuck Ross from the Daily Caller, who’s an investigative reporter there.
Thanks so much for joining us, Chuck.
CHUCK ROSS: Thanks for having me, Bruce.
SCHLESMAN: So I’d like to start by discussing Roger Stone’s most recent – the most recent indictments of him and just wanted to hear your take on Roger Stone.
ROSS: Yeah, so Roger Stone in the news because on Friday he was obviously indicted on seven separate charges in the special counsel’s probe. And these charges largely involved his testimony in 2017 to the House Intelligence Committee. He was indicted on five charges of making false statements during testimony there. He was also indicted on a witness tampering charge and on obstructing the proceeding – the actual testimony.
But the key takeaway from it is that none of the charges really seem to have to do with the core of the Mueller investigation. So, to back up, Roger Stone and Donald Trump have known each other for about four decades. They’ve worked together in New York for years. Roger Stone convinced Donald Trump to consider running for president back in 2000. He’s tried to convince him to run for governor at various points. And he ultimately convinced him to run for president – for this – you know, the 2016 campaign.
And so Roger has kind of worked on the periphery of the campaign. He’s kind of an outside guy who does a lot of muckraking and kind of – you know, he’s a self-styled provocateur of sorts. He gets into a lot of unorthodox projects. So the core question about Roger that Mueller has been looking at is whether Roger Stone had any contact with Wikileaks to procure the release of John Podesta’s emails. And it really has devolved into a kind of confusing myriad of these political guys – Roger Stone, a guy named Jerome Corsi, who your audience may have heard of. Another guy named Randy Credico, who is a left-wing radio host based in New York.
So the investigation has turned on this unlikely cast of characters and, as I said a little bit ago, none of it so far seems to really point to the core allegation of a mass conspiracy of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the election.
SCHLESMAN: So you mentioned Wikileaks and I just want to back up there a little bit. What is Wikileaks and that connection with Stone have anything to do with Russia?
ROSS: Yeah, so this is where it also gets a little tricky because it’s all based upon – you know, Wikileaks, of course, released batches of emails during the campaign. On July 22nd they released emails that were stolen from the DNC. October 7th, 2016, they released Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. So the question that Mueller seems to be looking at I whether Roger Stone or anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had a heads-up that any of these emails were going to be released. And also whether they aided the release of those emails.
Now, I think that’s kind of interesting because if you jump back two or so years ago, the ultimate theory of collusion has been that, you know, Michael Cohen and other Trump associates were travelling to Europe and meeting with Russian Kremlin insiders and hackers and paying hackers and all of these very nefarious sounding things. And some have been watered down, I think, with this latest indictment of Roger Stone. The worst-case scenario now, it seems to be, would be that Roger Stone maybe asked around to try to get Wikileaks to release some emails. There’s no – there’s no allegation against Roger Stone in this indictment that he actually met with anyone from Wikileaks, that he met with any Russians, that he took part in any hacking, that he – and actually, he’s not even accused in the indictment of directly asking or trying to procure the release of the emails. He’s merely charged with lying about details of things he said in emails and things like that. So it’s a – you know, you’ve heard the term. It’s a lot of process crime so far. There’s no charge of a conspiracy, which would be much more serious charge.
SCHLESMAN: So with Russian collusion, which is supposed to be Mueller’s entire lane here, it kind of seems like he’s a little bit out of bounds then is what you’re saying.
ROSS: Yeah, you know, I don’t know – personally I don’t know how I feel that it’s too far, not too far. I’m going to withhold judgement on that. Roger Stone insists that he did not lie to Congress.
Let me back up. If he did lie to Congress, you know, that’s lying to the government. It is illegal and he was charged with that. But what Roger Stone has been saying is that, first of all, that he meant – (audio break) – misremembered some details, so that he not purposely lied. Also, he claims that the lies, if that’s what you’re going to call them, were immaterial to the overall investigation.
So that’s going to get into a – you know, legal debate. That’s best left for the lawyers to decide what’s a lie, what’s not a lie, what’s material, what’s not material. But what I can say – my analysis of it all so far is that what he’s charged with right now just really is a kind of, like I said, watered-down version of this huge conspiracy to collude that we’ve been told about for the past two, two and a half years. It’s quite a bit less nefarious I would say.
SCHLESMAN: So earlier we saw Manafort indicted and that raid happened and now they raided Stone. It was a pre-dawn raid, kind of some similarities. What are the differences between Manafort’s trial and indictment before the trial and Stone’s indictment?
ROSS: Yeah, there are some similarities. I mean, the charges against Manafort were much more serious. They also really had nothing to do with collusion. He was charged, as you’ll recall, with tax evasion, money laundering, bank fraud, things like that related to lobbying work he did several years before he joined the campaign.
But the way I guess both defendants have been treated so far are similar. Now, we all saw the video footage that was filmed by CNN, who happened to have a reporter on site Friday at Stone’s house in Florida. We saw SWAT – they weren’t SWAT team, but they looked like SWAT team type FBI guys going into Stone’s house with guns drawn. It was early in the morning. It was a pre-dawn raid, if you will. That matches what we’d heard transpired at Paul Manafort’s house in Florida back in 2017. Manafort and his legal team complained, you know, that it was heavy-handed, that Manafort was not a flight risk.
Stone maintains the same – that he was not a flight risk, that he was not going to destroy evidence, and also – so objectively looking at it, I don’t know how the FBI normally handles a case like this, if the pre-dawn raid is normal, but I can – you know, I think just looking at it, trying to be rational about it, if you’re charged with lying, making false statements to Congress, it wouldn’t seem to me to warrant having to pull out, come in full guns blazing to arrest someone. You could kind of ask them maybe to show up at federal court with their lawyers, like normally happens.
SCHLESMAN: It kind of seems a little draconian in both cases, so do you think with Mueller, the whole Mueller probe, and we’ve been seeing this go on and on and continuing, as you mentioned there’s little evidence of Russian collusion, do we see an end coming to the Mueller probe?
ROSS: Well, you know, that’s the chatter going around. The other day you had Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, who I think he let it slip. I don’t think he meant to say it, but he said that the Mueller investigation is coming to a close. And that’s – matches up with a lot of the reporting. We’ve heard that Mueller’s working on his final report in the case, that he’s going to provide that report to the Justice Department maybe next month, within the next few weeks. So that indicates that he’s wrapping up. I mean, this seems as if most of the threads on this investigation have been pulled.
The next question I guess, though, is Roger Stone the end – the capstone to this? I mean, is Roger Stone the final person to be indicted? If he is, if no more indictments come before this report is filed, that would indicate that it is going to be a bunch of process crimes, no major charges of collusion, conspiracy, anything like that.
Now, the other theory is that Mueller is indicting Stone hoping that Stone will flip on President Trump or that information uncovered during discovery with Roger Stone will lead to further investigation, further – you know, a further investigation of possible collusion. In my opinion, you know, it doesn’t seem that that will happen. None of the indictments we’ve seen so far have been – have involved conspiracy. And that’s really what collusion is. It’s a conspiracy to work with a foreign power. We’ve not seen any hints, really, in any of these indictments of Roger Stone or in the case of Michael Cohen or even Paul Manafort that there is a conspiracy charge on the horizon. But I have to qualify: I may be wrong. We don’t know what Mueller is thinking, he’s doing. He may want to keep a lot of this stuff – he would want to keep a lot of this stuff closely held if he is trying to build a larger case.
SCHLESMAN: So does this help Mueller, this most recent indictment? Does it help his argument at all or does it hurt Trump?
ROSS: Well, I would say no indictment of a Trump associate is going to be good for Trump, but reading the tea leaves maybe it could be good in a – again, going back to if this is the final indictment to come down the pike, then I would say overall it’s good in the sense that the expectation has been built up so high over the past two years by Democrats that, you know, Trump is in bed with Putin, that he’s colluding, that he’s been colluding, that he – you know, the whole dossier, all the allegations in there with the salacious videotape. You know, if this is all that Mueller is going to charge people with, then you kind of can assume that maybe the more – the heftier allegations of collusion did not occur.
So since those expectations have been raised, anything less than that I think could be seen as a win of sorts for Trump. And I would expect, you know, Trump surrogates would spin it that way. I wouldn’t blame them because this cloud has been hanging over the administration for more than two years and a lot of energy has been built up and a lot of expectation and if it falls short of that, then I think Trump would have a lot of room to say, see, I told you so.
SCHLESMAN: Going forward, we’ve talked a lot about this issue of Russian collusion and the – this most recent indictment. Where does the administration go from here? Where does the Justice Department go from here? And if the Mueller probe does not wrap up.
ROSS: Yeah, well, I think, you know, we’ve heard a lot about – and I know Judicial Watch has done a lot of work and Tom Fitton has done a lot of pushing for this declassification of documents that are central to the alleged FISA abuse. And, you know, this is all the documents that were used to try to – to get the surveillance warrant against Carter Page. We – President Trump has been pressured to declassify some of those FISA applications which show that the FBI relied heavily on the dossier, even though it was unverified. And thankfully you guys, Judicial Watch, is representing Daily Caller, representing me, in a lawsuit against – that kind of touches on some of this. Not specifically the dossier, but some of the people within the State Department and the Justice Department who were involved in handling the dossier and meeting and speaking with Christopher Steele.
So the next thing, you know, we keep hearing that President Trump is just waiting for this all to wrap up – the Mueller portion to wrap up before he starts declassifying a lot of these documents that would potentially show that the FBI misled federal judges to get the spy warrants. So, you know, if it wraps up, hopefully we will see some transparency in that regard. You know, that’s what this is all about, I think, is finding out how the government put this investigation together and what basis they had to lead us down this two-and-a-half-year, by the time it all ends three-year quagmire that we’ve been involved in. So hopefully that happens. I can’t wait for it to. I really hope it does because it would reveal so much about how the government’s operated.
SCHLESMAN: Well, thanks so much for joining us today, Chuck. This conversation’s been really enlightening and thank you for filling us in on what the Roger Stone indictment and the Mueller probe at large.
ROSS: Yeah, thanks, Bruce. Thanks for having me and thank you to Judicial Watch.
SCHLESMAN: Thank you to our viewers for joining us on Inside Report today. Please be sure to follow Chuck if you like what you heard at ChuckRossDC on Twitter. Be sure to follow us on Twitter as well. Like us on Facebook. Visit our webpage and, to support our work, please donate and please subscribe to us on YouTube. Thank you so much for joining us today.