WASHINGTON — In Friday’s indictment of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime informal adviser to President Trump, the special counsel for the first time revealed evidence of efforts by senior Trump campaign officials to learn how emails and other information that had been hacked by Russia and given to WikiLeaks could damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The evidence appeared to contradict Mr. Stone’s assertions that he was acting on his own in his attempts to communicate with WikiLeaks. Senior campaign officials asked Mr. Stone to look into WikiLeaks’ plans, and he kept the campaign abreast of what he found out, the indictment said.
The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, disclosed new details about his investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference and possible ties to the Trump campaign:
The campaign sought to learn how WikiLeaks’ releases might damage Mrs. Clinton
The public has long known that Mr. Stone and his associates had tried to connect with WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican nomination. Senior campaign officials dispatched Mr. Stone on that mission, the indictment revealed.
In June or July 2016, Mr. Stone told senior campaign aides that he knew that WikiLeaks had documents “whose release would be damaging to the Clinton campaign,” the indictment said. After WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee on July 22, 2016, “a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases” and other information that WikiLeaks had that could hurt Mr. Trump’s opponent in the race, Mrs. Clinton.
The Trump campaign officials were interested in learning about the stolen emails and other documents, despite the fact, as the indictment noted, that the Democratic National Committee had publicly blamed the Russian government more than a month earlier for hacking its computers.
Someone ‘directed’ a senior Trump campaign aide to contact Mr. Stone
This is the most tantalizing new detail in the indictment. Prosecutors left open the possibility that Mr. Trump himself might have wanted to find out how WikiLeaks could hurt Mrs. Clinton’s chances of winning the White House. The indictment provided no details about either the senior campaign official or the unnamed person.
Jay Sekulow, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, sought to distance his client from the indictment and any suggestion that he might have sought to coordinate with WikiLeaks. “The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else,” Mr. Sekulow said in a statement. “Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress.”
It was obvious during the summer of 2016 that Mr. Trump was interested in what WikiLeaks was up to. A day after WikiLeaks released the Democratic committee’s emails, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that the documents showed Democrats were trying to “destroy” Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was running against Mrs. Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Mr. Trump directed his Twitter followers to the WikiLeaks disclosures, writing: “On-line from Wikileakes, really vicious. RIGGED.”
And a few days later, during a campaign rally, Mr. Trump invited Russia to search for emails Mrs. Clinton had deleted from a private account when she was secretary of state.
Mr. Stone is not charged with conspiracy
Campaign officials sought information from WikiLeaks, the indictment said, but it did not allege that those interactions were illegal or that Mr. Stone or anyone else tied to the Trump campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the organization.
This is a point that lawyers for the White House and Mr. Stone emphasized in response to Mr. Stone’s arrest and the allegations in the indictment. The lawyers said Mr. Stone was not charged with “collusion” — the president’s shorthand for conspiring with the Russians.
Mr. Mueller’s team has obtained indictments against Russians for conspiring to defraud the United States through an illegal social media campaign and conspiring to hack Democratic computers to steal emails and other documents. Investigators had been trying to determine whether Mr. Stone or any of Mr. Trump’s other associates were part of any illegal scheme orchestrated by the Russians or WikiLeaks to influence the election, according to two people briefed on the inquiry.
To charge a defendant with such a conspiracy, prosecutors would need to show much more than what they allege in Mr. Stone’s indictment. They would have to show the defendant agreed with one or more people to commit a crime and knew the objective of the criminal scheme and took action to further it, said John Marston, a former assistant United States attorney who is now a partner at the law firm Foley Hoag.
Prosecutors would not have to prove that the defendant knew every aspect of the conspiracy, Mr. Marston said. “But the government really needs something to show more than that the person was just associating with other bad actors, or merely aware of what the bad actors were doing,” he said.
Mr. Stone is the latest Trump associate charged with lying
The special counsel has charged six other Trump associates on allegations of lying to Congress or federal authorities. Among them were Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser; Michael D. Cohen, the president’s longtime lawyer and fixer; and Rick Gates, the former Trump deputy campaign manager.
In May 2017, Mr. Stone falsely told the House Intelligence Committee that he never discussed his WikiLeaks communications with anyone in the Trump campaign, according to the indictment. He also lied when he told the committee that he had no documents of interest to the House investigators, when in fact he had dozens of relevant emails and text messages, prosecutors said.
He also falsely denied that he had asked intermediaries to pass along requests to Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, for documents that he believed would hurt Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, according to the indictment.
He was also charged with trying to prevent an associate from contradicting his lies in his own testimony to the House committee. “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth,” he texted the associate.