Don’t Sleep on Roger Stone

The infamous Trump whisperer is in the early stages of a court case that’s poised to answer lingering questions from the Mueller report.

Roger Stone's ongoing court case may contain key revelations about the 2016 Trump campaign. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

On the eve of his first major appearance since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report, Roger Stone assured me that he would be “appropriately attired” for his day in court.

The veteran Republican operative and longtime confidant of Donald Trump—who boasts a Richard Nixon back tattoo and whose sartorial choices are known to include top hats, felt fedoras, and steampunk glasses—arrived at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington, D.C., Tuesday in a modest charcoal suit with a checkered pocket square. Stone’s understated ensemble matched the scene outside: Gone were the swarms of protesters or collusion-truthers who flocked to Paul Manafort’s and Michael Flynn’s court appearances. Hardly anyone was waiting to see Stone beyond a few cameramen. There is still plenty of unfinished business in relation to the special counsel’s investigation—details that will likely be very consequential to the Trump administration over the next two years.

“It’s going to be in the interest of a lot of people, particularly the Democrats in Congress, to shine a light on Roger’s trial,” said the Stone mentee Sam Nunberg, himself an adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign, when reached by phone Tuesday. Stone, Nunberg added, is a “crucial piece for the investigation.” Nunberg testified before Mueller’s grand jury after infamously flaunting his subpoena on air during a marathon of cable-news appearances last March.

Stone, who was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in January on charges that he obstructed justice and lied to Congress, was a central figure in the special counsel’s two-year investigation. His communications with WikiLeaks and the hacker persona Guccifer 2.0 have been widely analyzed by Mueller and congressional investigators, and his “dirty trickster” reputation has been the subject of numerous profiles. Stone’s case remains under a gag order following his posting of an inflammatory photo of Judge Amy Berman Jackson on his Instagram account.

In the nearly two weeks since Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, after which Trump claimed “total exoneration,” media attention has mostly shifted to 2020 and other matters.

That changed Tuesday night, when reports emerged that Mueller informed Barr in late March that the attorney general’s four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of Mueller’s report “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the work. In response, Democrats, led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, have renewed their calls for Mueller to testify before Congress. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning, Barr seemed irritated as he faced questions from Democrats about the accuracy of his memo.

Stone’s case, which isn’t slated to begin oral arguments until early November, will revive some of the unanswered questions surrounding Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors are already subpoenaing witnesses to testify against Stone in relation to his alleged efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails in the final months of the 2016 election.

The public version of the Mueller report contains more than 900 redactions, some of which pertain to Stone’s case. If the full report is eventually released, as Democrats like Nadler have pushed for, it could have a dramatic impact on Stone’s trial—not the least on the search for an impartial jury. Additionally, Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort associate from Ukraine charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, has also been indicted, but has not yet appeared in court.

Meanwhile, House and Senate committees are continuing their own investigations into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia and the president’s potential acts of obstruction of justice. The House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Erik Prince, the founder of the private military contractor Blackwater, whom Chairman Adam Schiff alleges gave false testimony to the panel about a 2016 meeting with a Russian banker.

And then there are the multiple investigations in the Southern District of New York that have not yet concluded. In February, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, revealed that prosecutors were looking into his communications with the president and his representatives following the FBI raid of Cohen’s hotel room, apartment, and office in April 2018. Prosecutors are also reportedly examining the financial dealings of Trump’s inaugural committee, as well as whether Manafort, during his time as Trump’s campaign chair, illegally coordinated with a pro-Trump super PAC, Rebuilding America Now. “There are people that are aggressively against Trump in SDNY,” Nunberg told me. “This is ultimately not going to end well for him.”

After his brief procedural hearing on Tuesday, in which lawyers discussed what materials he should have access to ahead of his trial, Stone left the courthouse with a grin on his face, offering a “thumbs up” to the small group of photographers flanking his exit. But it would be a mistake to think that, with Mueller’s final conclusions made (mostly) public, the events of the next few weeks and months are inconsequential. In some ways, it seems, things may be just beginning.