Trump Ally Roger Stone Set for Arraignment on Russia Probe Charges
U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone is being arraigned Tuesday in a federal court in Washington on seven charges linked to the release of damaging hacked emails about Trump's 2016 Democratic opponent, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The 66-year-old Stone, arrested last week at his Florida home in a pre-dawn FBI raid, is expected to plead not guilty to five counts of lying to Congress about his role in the WikiLeaks release of the emails, and single counts of witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
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Unlike most defendants in U.S. criminal cases, Stone since his arrest has made the rounds of television news shows, to assert his innocence and belittle special counsel Robert Mueller, who brought the charges against him.
On his Instagram account, Stone, a long-time self-proclaimed "dirty trickster" whose hero is Richard Nixon, the disgraced U.S. president from the early 1970s, depicted Mueller in a cartoonish-image as a butler holding a tray with a hamburger roll, but with no meat in between.
The charges against Stone do not allege that he coordinated with Russia or with WikiLeaks on the release of the hacked emails, which U.S. authorities say were stolen from Democrats by Russian agents. Stone told ABC news on Sunday that all he "did was take publicly available information and try to hype it" to disparage Clinton in support of Trump's campaign.
The charging documents against Stone say that at one point a senior Trump campaign official "was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information" WikiLeaks had about Clinton, but does not disclose who gave the order to find out information from Stone.
Stone's arraignment is occurring hours after Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said he thinks Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign will finish soon.
Acting US Attorney General: Mueller Probe 'Close to Being Completed'
"The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible," Whitaker said at a news conference in Washington.
Whitaker has been the acting attorney general since November when Trump ousted Jeff Sessions from the position. Trump had repeatedly complained about Sessions removing himself from oversight of the Russia probe, and Whitaker declined to recuse himself despite calls that he should do so based on his past criticism of Mueller's investigation.
William Barr, a former U.S. attorney general, is awaiting a confirmation vote on his nomination to again take over the Justice Department. During his confirmation hearings, he pledged, without citing specifics, that he would publicly release as much of Mueller's eventual report as possible.
So far, Mueller's investigation has resulted in guilty pleas or convictions of five key figures in Trump's orbit, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn and former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Papadopoulos served a short jail term, while Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to surrender himself in early March. Manafort, Gates and Flynn are awaiting sentencing.