First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann
WASHINGTON — Well, today, it’s Roger Stone’s time in the barrel.
The headline this morning is that Stone, the former adviser to President Donald Trump, was charged by special counsel Robert Mueller of obstruction, giving false statements and witness tampering — making him the latest Trump associate to get indicted or plead guilty.
But inside of Mueller’s indictment is an even bigger story: a list of the times when Stone was communicating with the Trump campaign and its associates about the WikiLeaks email releases that ended up rocking Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the final month of the 2016 presidential election.
- “During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1” — WikiLeaks — “and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.” (Page 2)
- “STONE also continued to communicate with members of the Trump Campaign about Organization 1 and its intended future releases.” (Page 2)
- “After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” (Page 4)
- “On or about October 3, 2016, STONE wrote to a supporter involved with the Trump Campaign, “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming.” (Page 8)
- “Also on or about October 3, 2016, STONE received an email from a reporter who had connections to a high-ranking Trump Campaign official that asked, ‘[the head of Organization 1] — what’s he got? Hope it’s good.’ STONE responded in part, ‘It is. I’d tell [the high-ranking Trump Campaign official] but he doesn’t call me back.’” (Page 9)
- “On or about October 4, 2016, the head of Organization 1 held a press conference but did not release any new materials pertaining to the Clinton Campaign. Shortly afterwards, STONE received an email from the high-ranking Trump Campaign official asking about the status of future releases by Organization 1. STONE answered that the head of Organization 1 had a ‘[s]erious security concern’ but that Organization 1 would release ‘a load every week going forward.’” (Page 9)
- “Shortly after Organization 1’s release, an associate of the high-ranking Trump Campaign official sent a text message to STONE that read ‘well done.’” (Page 9).
Why does Stone talking to the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks matter? Because Trump and his campaign seized on the WikiLeaks disclosures during the last month of the 2016 election, with Trump mentioning the word “WikiLeaks” some 140 times in that final month, per NBC’s count.
The caution here: Mueller’s indictment clearly shows collusion/cooperation between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. What we don’t know is if Stone and the Trump campaign knew that WikiLeaks might have been a front for Russian intelligence — since it was Russian intelligence that hacked the Democratic emails. Stone has denied being involved in any collusion.
Here’s a timeline of WikiLeaks and its role in the 2016 campaign:
- March 19, 2016: Russian hackers gain access to Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta’s emails.
- April 2016: Russian intelligence gains access to the computer networks at the DNC and DCCC.
- June 9: Donald Trump Jr. — along with Jared Kushner and former campaign chair Paul Manafort — meets with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
- July 6: An organization — presumably WikiLeaks — strategizes on the release of the hacked DNC emails with Russian intelligence: “On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, ‘if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo (sic) days prefable (sic) because the DNC (Democratic National Convention) is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after. The Conspirators responded, “ok … i see.’ Organization 1 explained, ‘we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.'” (Mueller indictments, July 13, 2018)
- July 21: GOP convention concludes with Trump giving his speech accepting the Republican nomination.
- July 22: WikiLeaks releases stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee.
- July 24: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigns from fallout over the DNC emails.
- July 25: Democratic convention begins.
- July 27: Trump asks Russia for assistance in the 2016 election: “If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
- July 27: Russian intelligence, for the first time, tries to gain access to Hillary Clinton’s emails/server. “[O]n or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party and used by Clinton’s personal office,” per Mueller’s July 2018 indictments.)
- Aug. 15: A Trump campaign associate – presumably Roger Stone – communicates with Russian intelligence “On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, ‘thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted.” (July 2018 indictments)
- Aug. 21: Roger Stone tweets, “It will soon [be] the Podesta’s time in the barrel” (Stone later said he was referring to both Podesta brothers, John and Tony, in the Panama Papers.)
- Oct. 3: Donald Trump Jr. exchanges direct messages with WikiLeaks in the fall of the 2016 election: “Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” WikiLeaks wrote Trump Jr. “Already did that earlier today,” Trump Jr. responded. “It’s amazing what [Hillary Clinton] can get away with.” (The Atlantic)
- Oct. 4: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange says his organization will publish emails related to the 2016 campaign.
- Oct. 7: Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence release a statement directly saying that Russia is interfering in the 2016 election.
- Oct. 7: WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta’s emails on a daily basis, until the end of the 2016 campaign.
In the final month of the 2016 election, Trump mentions WikiLeaks some 140 times, per NBC’s count:
- Oct. 31 in Warren, Mich: “Did you see where, on WikiLeaks, it was announced that they were paying protesters to be violent, $1,500?… Did you see another one, another one came in today? This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
- Nov. 2 in Orlando, Fla: “WikiLeaks just came out with a new one, just a little a while ago, it’s just been shown that a rigged system with more collusion, possibly illegal, between the Department of Justice, the Clinton campaign and the State Department.”
- Nov. 4 in Wilmington, Ohio: “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks”
Steve King has yet another 2020 challenger.
Chuck Todd is moderator of “Meet The Press” and NBC News’ political director.
Mark Murray is a senior political editor at NBC News.
Carrie Dann is a political editor for NBC News.