By Zachary Fagenson
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Reuters) - A longtime ally of U.S. President Donald Trump was arrested on Friday for lying to Congress about the 2016 campaign's efforts to use stolen emails to undercut his Democratic rival in one of the highest-level arrests of the Special Counsel probe into possible election manipulation.
Roger Stone, a 66-year-old self-proclaimed Republican "dirty trickster," declared himself innocent hours after a large team of FBI agents raided his Fort Lauderdale, Florida home.
He is one of the closest Trump associates to be charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia to help win the election.
Mueller said in court papers that Stone shared with multiple members of the Trump campaign team advance knowledge he had of a plan by WikiLeaks to release senior Democrats' emails.
Some political analysts say the emails, which highlighted disputes among Democrats, contributed to Trump's stunning defeat of election rival Hillary Clinton.
The charges mark the first time the Trump campaign has been publicly tied to WikiLeaks by Mueller's team and add to pressure on the president as the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives plans to step up investigations of him.
"Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION!," Trump wrote on Twitter following Stone's arrest, using his most common slur for the Mueller probe.
The charging documents included new details about Trump aides' alleged activities, including an incident in which a senior campaign official "was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information" WikiLeaks had about the Clinton campaign.
The papers do not make clear who gave that order to a senior campaign official.
Stone was charged with seven criminal counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, witness tampering and making false statements.
STONE BLASTS 'INQUISITION'
In a rowdy scene outside a courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Stone denounced his arrest as politically motivated and said he had done no wrong.
"After a two-year inquisition, the charges today related in no way to Russian collusion, WikiLeaks coordination or any other illegal act in connection with the 2016 campaign," he told reporters, flashing the twin "V for Victory" signs that the disgraced President Richard Nixon was famous for.
"I will not testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness against him."
A crowd chanted "Lock Him Up," an inversion of the "Lock Her Up" chant that Trump and his surrogates led against Clinton at rallies during the 2016 campaign. Someone played the Beatles song "Back in the U.S.S.R." Others cheered in support of Stone.
A magistrate judge released Stone on a $250,000 bond and ordered him to limit his travel to South Florida, New York City and Washington.
The indictment showed Stone using language evoking mob bosses -- and even citing a "Godfather" movie -- as he called an unnamed associate facing FBI inquiries "a rat. A stoolie."
Stone's reputation as an aggressive political operative dates back to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s when he was working for Nixon. He has a back tattoo bearing the late president's face.
WikiLeaks, referred to in the indictment as "Organization 1," did not respond to a request for comment.
Over 30 people have pleaded guilty, been indicted or otherwise swept up in the Russia inquiry, which has clouded Trump's two-year-old presidency.
They include former close associates of Trump such as his one-time lawyer Michael Cohen and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort as well as 12 Russian intelligence officers.
The indictment referred to an October 2016 email from a "high-ranking Trump Campaign official" asking Stone to inquire about future releases of emails by "Organization 1." Stone responded that "Organization 1" would release "a load every week going forward."
The high-ranking official is believed to be former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon, according to a person familiar with the matter. Bannon did not respond to a request for comment.
STUMP CALL TO RUSSIA
The interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the indictment occurred days before Trump called out to Russia in a campaign stump speech for help finding "missing" emails from Clinton's time as secretary of state, according to Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff.
"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said, vexing intelligence experts and prompting Democrats to accuse him of urging a foreign country to spy on Americans.
"At the very time that then-candidate Trump was publicly encouraging Russia's help in acquiring Clinton-related emails, his campaign was privately receiving information about the planned release of stolen Clinton emails," Schiff said in a statement.
The Kremlin has denied interfering with the 2016 election..
The DNC emails WikiLeaks released in the summer of 2016 sowed division among Democratic voters by appearing to show party officials favoured Clinton over the insurgent candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chair in response.
Stone's ties to Trump go back four decades. Stone has urged Trump to run for president since 1988, was chairman of his 2000 presidential exploratory committee and was a consultant when Trump considered running in 2012.
Stone briefly worked for the 2016 Trump campaign but left in August 2015. The campaign said it fired him after he tried to grab too much of the spotlight while Stone insisted that he quit.
Even after Stone resigning, he still played a key promotional role for Trump and communicated with people in his camp.
(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson, additional reporting by Nathan Layne and Karen Freifeld in New York and Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Mark Hosenball and Ginger Gibson in Washington, writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
Updated Date: Jan 26, 2019 03:05:54 IST