Trump ally Roger Stone pleads not guilty to US charges in Russia probe

VIDEO: REUTERS
Roger Stone, arrested last Friday in an early morning raid on his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is due to appear for an arraignment in US federal court in Washington.
Roger Stone, arrested last Friday in an early morning raid on his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is due to appear for an arraignment in US federal court in Washington.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump's longtime political ally Roger Stone on Tuesday (Jan 29) pleaded not guilty to seven criminal counts after becoming the latest member of Trump's inner circle charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Stone, arrested on Friday in an early-morning raid on his home in Florida, sat in the US federal court in Washington in a blue suit and tie.

His lawyer Robert Buschel said Stone pleaded not guilty to the charges of making false statements to Congress, obstruction of an official proceeding and witness tampering.

Stone smiled as he passed through a gauntlet of reporters upon arrival at the courthouse.

A small group of protesters waved Russian flags and a placard that said "Dirty Traitor" while other people showed their support for the 66-year-old veteran Republican operative.

The indictment said Stone told members of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign that he had advance knowledge of plans by the WikiLeaks website to release damaging emails about Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, that US intelligence agencies have concluded were stolen by Russia.

The indictment did not indicate whether Stone knew that Russians had stolen the emails by hacking into computers used by Clinton's senior campaign adviser John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.

 
 
 

Mueller last year charged 12 Russians accused in the hacking as part of his investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election, whether Trump's campaign conspired with Moscow and whether the president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the investigation.

The charges against Stone marked the first time Mueller's team has publicly tied the Trump campaign to WikiLeaks, and raise questions about what Trump may have known prior to the public release of the stolen emails.

The charging documents said a senior campaign official "was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information" WikiLeaks had about Clinton's campaign but do not disclose the identity of the person who gave the order.

Stone, a self-proclaimed "dirty trickster" and Republican political operative since the days of the Watergate scandal that forced his former boss President Richard Nixon to resign in 1974, was released on a US$250,000 (S$330,000) bond after his arrest.

He has declared his innocence. In comments to journalists on Monday in Florida ahead of his arraignment, Stone accused Mueller of "a raw abuse of power."

Trump has called the investigation a witch hunt and denied any collusion.

Russia has denied US intelligence community's finding that Moscow interfered in the US political arena.

Thirty-four people have been swept up in the Mueller investigation. Those charged include Trump's former campaign chairman and deputy campaign chairman, former national security adviser and his former personal lawyer.

It remains unclear whether any further charges have been filed. Acting US Attorney-General Matthew Whitaker on Monday said Mueller's investigation was close to wrapping up and that a report was expected soon.