How Did Roger Stone Know What the President Told Mueller?

A question is circulating on Twitter and cable news shows: How does Roger Stone know what Donald Trump told the special counsel in the President’s written responses to Bob Mueller?

There’s a likely simple—and non-nefarious—answer to the question. But that answer may also raise legal trouble for President Donald Trump that’s missing from the conversation.

The basis for the question is a statement by Stone on Tucker Carlson’s show last night. Stone said:

“They [CNN and MSNBC] act as if Stone acted as the conduit between the Trump Campaign and WikiLeaks or between Donald Trump and WikiLeaks. When the President answered the written interrogatories he correctly and honestly said, ‘Roger Stone and I never discussed this,’ and we never did.” (emphasis added).

Speculation is rampant that the President or his team privately communicated Trump’s answers to Stone.

But there’s a more innocent explanation missing. Stone can simply say he learned of the President’s response from a CNN story on November 29, 2018, which reported what Trump told Mueller. CNN stated:

“President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks ….”

“Stone’s denial matches with what Trump told Mueller: that the two never spoke about WikiLeaks.”

But that answer may make matters worse for the President in other respects.

First, the President may have committed perjury (or made an intentional false statement) in his response to the Special Counsel by denying that he and Stone communicated about WikiLeaks. It is hard to fathom that the two men did not discuss Stone’s information on WikiLeaks given the detailed revelations in Stone’s indictment about his communications with senior Trump Campaign officials and his work on behalf of the Campaign in liaising with WikiLeaks. As Chris Cuomo said to Stone on Friday night, “he [President Trump] has known you the longest, OK. He has got the deepest relationship with you … Why would people believe that his oldest most trusted adviser was doing something like this for him at the same time that he kept talking up WikiLeaks and yet he knew nothing about it?” Mueller’s draft statement of offense for Jerome Corsi also adds to the picture. That document states that Corsi “understood [Stone] to be in regular contact with senior members of the Trump Campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump” when Stone “asked Corsi to get in touch with [Wikileaks] about materials it possessed relevant to the presidential campaign.”

Second, given the multitude of Stone’s communications with senior Trump Campaign officials, if he did not discuss the issue with the candidate despite all of his conversations with Trump, it may be even more incriminating. Were they trying to shield the President because they knew these communications and Stone’s work was illegal or illegitimate?

A safe bet is that Trump was in the loop.

Finally, who leaked this specific content in Trump’s written responses to Mueller and why? That’s hard to know, but it could be a way for Trump or his team to communicate to other witnesses to hold the same line. Indeed, this may be a pattern among Trump associates: to tell their lies in public as a method to signal to others. As Andy Wright and I wrote back in December, the Special Counsel’s sentencing documents for Michael Cohen suggested, “Mueller’s theory of the case recognizes that public statements are methods of communication with other witnesses.” 

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.