Stone Trial Links Trump More Closely to 2016 Effort to Obtain Stolen Emails

WASHINGTON — President Trump was more personally involved in his campaign’s effort to obtain Democratic emails stolen by Russian operatives in 2016 than was previously known, phone records introduced in federal court on Wednesday suggested.

Federal prosecutors disclosed the calls at the start of the criminal trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, who faces charges of lying to federal investigators about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. Russian intelligence officers had funneled tens of thousands of emails they stole from Democratic computers to WikiLeaks, which released them at critical points during the presidential race.

The records suggest that Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Stone repeatedly during the summer of 2016, at a time when Mr. Stone was aggressively seeking to obtain the stolen emails from Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. The prosecutors noted that they did not know what Mr. Stone and Mr. Trump had discussed. But they stressed that the timing of their calls dovetailed with other key developments related to the theft and release of the Democratic emails.

The phone records are the first concrete suggestion that Mr. Trump may have had a direct role in his campaign’s effort to benefit from Russia’s hidden hand in the election. At the very least, the calls and other evidence underscored the eagerness of senior campaign officials and other Trump associates to reap the rewards of what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, later called a sophisticated and alarming covert Russian influence operation.

And the disclosures came amid the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure a different foreign government, Ukraine, to potentially interfere in the 2020 election, again in ways that would personally benefit him.

Mr. Mueller scrutinized the links between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign during his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 race. But the phone calls between Mr. Trump and Mr. Stone were not described in the version of Mr. Mueller’s report that was publicly released last spring, most likely because officials redacted evidence related to continuing criminal investigations and prosecutions, including the case against Mr. Stone.

Mr. Stone’s contacts with Mr. Trump are an issue in his criminal case because he is accused of lying about his discussions with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks, among other charges.

Mr. Stone, a former campaign aide and 40-year friend of the president, has acknowledged trying in 2016 to contact Mr. Assange for information damaging to Hillary Clinton. But he has denied any knowledge of Russia’s role in the theft of the emails and has said he never managed to reach Mr. Assange, though he continually bragged that he had a back channel to him.

Mr. Stone, 67, is charged with seven felonies, including obstructing justice, making false statements and tampering with a witness. The case revolves mainly around his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017, when it was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In his opening statement in a federal courtroom in Washington, Bruce S. Rogow, Mr. Stone’s defense lawyer, said his client never acted with “criminal intent.” Far from trying to deceive congressional investigators, he said, Mr. Stone voluntarily testified before the House committee and sought to give his deposition publicly.

But Aaron Zelinsky, the lead prosecutor who also served on Mr. Mueller’s team, said Mr. Stone deliberately lied to the congressional investigators because “the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump.”

He said Mr. Stone, a self-described dirty trickster, went to extreme lengths to cover up his lies to the committee, including threatening another potential witness named Randy Credico, as well as Mr. Credico’s friend and even Mr. Credico’s dog.

Mr. Stone also concealed hundreds of text messages and email exchanges that would have exposed his efforts to contact Mr. Assange and to relay information to senior Trump officials, prosecutors said.

They set out a detailed time line showing how Mr. Stone’s interactions with Mr. Trump and his campaign officials overlapped with developments involving the Russian hackers or WikiLeaks.

On June 14, 2016, the same day The Washington Post reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, the records reflect three calls between Mr. Trump and Mr. Stone. Mr. Stone placed a very brief call to Mr. Trump’s home phone that evening. It was followed by two calls from Mr. Trump’s cellphone to Mr. Stone’s cellphone — conversations that lasted a total of about five minutes.

Over the next two weeks, Guccifer 2.0, the pseudonym used by the Russian hackers, posted two messages on WordPress. The first claimed credit for the computer espionage. The second praised Mr. Trump. That same day, prosecutors said, Mr. Stone made a call from his cellphone to Mr. Trump’s cellphone that lasted about two and a half minutes.

Mr. Stone was in contact with Guccifer 2.0 but has said he did not know who was behind that persona.

On July 31, after a five-minute phone call from Mr. Trump’s home phone line, Mr. Stone wrote a message directing an associate to “see Assange.” At the time, Mr. Assange was holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, trying to avoid prosecution.

In August, Mr. Stone wrote to Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, saying that he had an idea “to save” Mr. Trump, but “it ain’t pretty.”

That same month, Mr. Stone wrote on Twitter, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” That prediction seemed remarkably prescient because about six weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing 50,000 emails that Russian agents had stolen from the computer of John D. Podesta, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Mr. Stone told the House committee that his Twitter message was based on research from a friend about the business dealings of Mr. Podesta and his brother in Ukraine. The friend, Jerome Corsi, initially backed up Mr. Stone’s account. But in interviews with investigators, he said that was merely a “cover story” that he and Mr. Stone devised.

Mr. Zelinsky, the prosecutor, said Mr. Stone lied to congressional investigators about his interactions with Mr. Corsi.

He said Mr. Stone also told Mr. Credico not to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigation. In a January 2018 text message, Mr. Stone described the special counsel’s investigation as a “waste of your time,” then referred to Mr. Mueller with an expletive.

Mr. Zelinsky suggested Mr. Credico, a New York radio host who struggles with alcohol, might strike jurors as a less than perfect witness. But to an “amazing” degree, he said, the evidence against Mr. Stone is laid bare in documents.

Stephen K. Bannon, who ran the Trump campaign in its final months and then became a top White House adviser, is also expected to testify in the trial.

Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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