WASHINGTON — Roger Stone pushed back against Michael Cohen’s claims that Stone told Trump in July 2016 that he had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an email dump that would hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign, saying in a text message to BuzzFeed News: “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true.”
Stone’s text, which he made clear was a “statement,” was just the one sentence, and he did not explain what exactly about Cohen’s testimony he maintained was false. Stone, who is facing criminal charges for lying to Congress, is under a gag order not to publicly comment on his case, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, or any “participants” in his case or the investigation.
A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on whether they believe Stone’s statement complies with the judge’s order.
Cohen is testifying Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee. Cohen told members in his opening statement Wednesday that Trump knew in advance that WikiLeaks planned to release emails in July 2016 that would harm Clinton’s presidential bid. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee — emails that Mueller’s office has charged Russian nationals with hacking and providing to WikiLeaks. Over the next few months leading up to the election, WikiLeaks would also release emails stolen from the chair of Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta.
Cohen told Congress that in July 2016, shortly before the Democratic National Convention, which began on July 25, he was in Trump’s office when Stone called. He later testified that he believed he learned about the upcoming WikiLeaks release of DNC emails on July 18 or 19 — but he said he did not know if Stone and Trump knew where the emails had come from.
“Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone,” Cohen said in his statement. “Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Cohen said that Trump replied “to the effect of, ‘wouldn’t that be great.'”
Stone is charged with lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks. The indictment doesn’t allege that Stone personally communicated with Assange or anyone else associated with WikiLeaks, but it accuses him of lying about directing associates to contact the group, and about telling Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks and “intended future releases.”
WikiLeaks and Stone have denied direct communications between Stone and Assange. In a Feb. 15 tweet responding to reports that federal prosecutors had communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, the group published a screenshot of a direct message exchange between Stone and the group in October 2016, with Stone criticizing WikiLeaks for “attacking” him, and WikiLeaks accusing Stone of making “false claims of association.”
On Wednesday, the WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted that Assange “has never had a telephone call with Roger Stone.” The group said it had teased releases of “publications on Hillary Clinton” — in June 2016, Assange said in an interview that WikiLeaks was going to publish more emails that Clinton sent or received while she was Secretary of State, but those comments didn’t address emails stolen from the DNC.
According to the indictment that a grand jury returned in the DNC hacking case brought by Mueller’s office, WikiLeaks confirmed via email to the Russian defendants in July 18, 2016 that the organization had the DNC documents and planned to release them “this week.”
Stone’s indictment quotes emails that he allegedly sent in July and August 2016 to one of his associates, Jerome Corsi, about potentially communicating with Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Assange has lived since 2012, about getting more emails after the July 22, 2016, release by WikiLeaks.
“Get to [the head of Organization 1],” Stone wrote to Corsi on July 25, 2016, according to the indictment. “Get to [the head of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.”
During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — who resigned as DNC chair in July 2016 after the WikiLeaks release — asked Cohen if he believed Trump “explicitly or implicitly” directed Stone to contact WikiLeaks and say the campaign was interested in hacked materials. Cohen replied, “I’m not aware of that.”
Cohen testified that Stone was not acting as an agent of the campaign, characterizing him as a “free agent.”
“He frequently reached out to Mr. Trump, and Mr. Trump was very happy to take his calls,” Cohen said. “It was free service.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.