Ex-Trump adviser Roger Stone arrested as part of Mueller probe

Stone blasted the special counsel's investigation as "politically motivated" and said he would plead not guilty to the charges against him after his court appearance.

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By Erik Ortiz, Dareh Gregorian and Kristen Welker

Roger Stone, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, was arrested Friday on charges of obstruction, giving false statements and witness tampering as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian election interference.

Stone, a longtime Republican operative and self-described "dirty trickster," has been under the microscope over his alleged connection to WikiLeaks and hacked Democratic emails released by the site during the 2016 presidential campaign. He has repeatedly denied any collusion with WikiLeaks.

Stone, 66, was arrested before dawn by a team of federal agents at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a day after a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia indicted him on one count of "obstruction of proceeding," five counts of making false statements and one count of witness tampering.

Stone, known as a fancy dresser, appeared in federal court late Friday morning in wrist shackles and wearing a dark blue polo shirt and jeans. The judge allowed him to be released on a $250,000 signature bond.

Stone was an official with the Trump campaign before leaving in August 2015, although he "maintained regular contact with and publicly supported" the campaign through the 2016 election, according to the indictment.

Stone, who started his career working for Richard Nixon and has a tattoo of Nixon on his back, came out of the courthouse flashing a Nixon-style double-V for victory to cheers from supporters and boos from others in the massive crowd that had gathered outside.

"I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court," he told reporters over the heckling and chants of "Lock him up!" from some in the crowd. He said he would not "bear false witness" against the president in Mueller's "politically motivated investigation."

"I am falsely accused of making false statements," he said.

"I will not testify against the president because I would have to bear false witness against him."

In a phone interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on InfoWars before he spoke to reporters, Stone vowed to "fight," and said he was being "persecuted for being a 40-year friend and supporter" of Trump's.

The indictment does not accuse Stone of personally coordinating with the Russians. Mueller was appointed in May of 2017 to investigate Russian election interference and whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Moscow.

Stone lawyer Grant Smith criticized the feds for how his client was arrested.

"There was no need to have the FBI show up with a SWAT team this morning. He’s been very public for the last two years about where he was and what he was doing," Smith said when reached by phone, adding, "If they’d found any collusion they would have charged him with it."

"He will fight vigorously because these were things he did not recall and were immaterial to the scope of the investigation," Smith said.

Trump tweeted in support of Stone as his court hearing got underway, and questioned how CNN, which had staked out Stone's house, got footage of his arrest.

"Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?" the tweet said.

A CNN reporter had tweeted earlier Friday that the network had staked out Stone's house after their reporters "noticed unusual grand jury activity in DC on Thursday."

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Trump attorney Jay Sekulow was more measured than his client. "The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else. Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements Mr. Stone made to Congress," he said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stressed that the charges did not personally involve Trump.

"This has nothing to do with the president, certainly nothing to do with the White House. This is something that has to do solely with that individual, not something that affects us in this building," Sanders said on CNN Friday morning.

"The president did nothing wrong. There was no collusion on his part," she added, responding to a question about Mueller's investigation.

The indictment lays out a timeline of how Stone's actions aligned with what was going on in the 2016 campaign.

Around May 2016, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee became aware that their computers had been compromised and hired a security company to identify the extent of the intrusions, according to the indictment. About a month later, the DNC announced that it had been hacked by Russian government cyber operations.

The indictment then described how an unnamed “Organization 1” — known publicly to be WikiLeaks — posted tens of thousands of documents stolen from the DNC and the personal email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman.

In the summer of 2016, according to the indictment, Stone spoke with senior Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks and “information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.” Senior campaign officials later asked Stone about any future releases from WikiLeaks, the indictment alleges.

After WikiLeaks dumped stolen DNC documents in July, a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about future releases on the Clinton campaign, the indictment alleges. Stone allegedly later told campaign officials about future WikiLeaks releases.

Donald Trump walks to the Federal Courthouse in Newark, New Jersey, with Roger Stone on Oct. 25, 1999.Daniel Hulshizer / AP

In early August of that year, Stone was claiming both publicly and privately to have communicated with Organization 1, while the organization made a public statement denying direct talks, the indictment said.

After a WikiLeaks release on or about Oct. 7, 2016, an associate of a high-ranking Trump campaign official texted Stone "well done," according to the indictment.

The indictment also says Stone received an email in early October from "the high-ranking Trump Campaign official asking about the status of future releases by" WikiLeaks. That official is Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who was the Trump campaign CEO at the time, a source with direct knowledge of the special counsel's probe and the indictment told NBC News. According to the source, Bannon is referred to at least one other time in the indictment.

"Bannon cooperated with Mueller and Mueller considers him only a witness," the source said.

After the presidential election, Congress and the FBI announced investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including Stone’s claimed contact with WikiLeaks. The indictment alleges that Stone obstructed the investigations by making multiple false statements to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his interactions with WikiLeaks and attempted to persuade a witness to provide false testimony and withhold information.

Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 about Russia and Trump. He had supplemented his testimony with documents, including ones that named Randy Credico, a New York radio host, as his backchannel to WikiLeaks.

Stone during his testimony denied having any emails or texts with anyone regarding allegations of hacked documents, but in actuality, the indictment alleges, Stone had sent and received numerous emails and texts during the 2016 campaign in which he discussed WikiLeaks, its founder, Julian Assange, and its possession of hacked emails.

Stone later told an unidentified "person 2" — believed to be Credico — in December 2017 that Corsi should do a "Frank Pentangeli" before the House committee to prevent contradicting Stone's earlier testimony, according to the indictment. Pentangeli was a character in "The Godfather: Part II" who, the filing notes, "testifies before a congressional committee and in that testimony claims not to know critical information that he does in fact know."

Stone also told "person 2" that "I'm not talking to the FBI and if your(sic) smart you won't either."

The indictment also details repeated conversations Stone had with "person 1," an individual believed to be right-wing conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, an associate of Stone. The pair communicated at length about document leaks, and Corsi encouraged Stone on potential campaign messaging.

“Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke – neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle,” Corsi told Stone, according to an email dated Aug. 2, 2016 referenced in the court document.

Corsi told NBC News that the charges were "a shock" and that "I'm praying for Roger," but "I stand firm everything in the indictment about me is accurate and coincides with everything I've said."

Corsi — who has previously claimed he rejected a proposed perjury plea deal with Mueller's team of "thugs" — said Friday that "the special counsel in my case has been fair and accurate," and that he believed his old friend is in trouble.

“If I were going into a casino, and Mueller said he had the evidence — I’d bet on Mueller,” he said.

A lawyer for Assange was critical of Stone's arrest.

"The dawn military-style arrest of Mr. Stone, a 66 year old political consultant, was wholly unnecessary and served no purpose other than intimidation. The charges against Mr. Stone do not allege that Mr. Stone lied about his contacts with Julian Assange, but rather about his contacts with others and about documents reflecting those communications," said the attorney, Barry Pollack.

A court filing unsealed Friday shows prosecutors told the judge they did not want to give Stone advance notice of his arrest for fear it would "increase the risk of the defendant fleeing and destroying (or tampering with) evidence."

In a statement, the DNC predicted there was more trouble to come for the campaign. "The Trump campaign was a willing and active participant in a conspiracy with Russia and WikiLeaks to influence the 2016 election. There are more conspirators yet to be held accountable — and at least one of them is named Donald Trump," the statement said.

Stone is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in federal court in Washington, D.C, on Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Former prosecutor Joyce Vance told NBC News that if convicted, Stone could face up to 24 to 30 months behind bars under federal sentencing guidelines if the “offense resulted in substantial interference with the administration of justice."

"Judges have the discretion to depart upwards or downwards,” she added.

Nearly a dozen Stone associates have been summoned by Mueller to appear before his Washington grand jury, sources told NBC News in November.

Trump in December tweeted his support of Stone, quoting his longtime ally as saying he would never testify against him.

Trump wrote that Stone was "essentially stating that he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies and stories about 'President Trump.' Nice to know that some people still have 'guts!'"

Anna Schecter contributed.