The arrest of former Trump associate Roger Stone sent shockwaves through the American media. Whether Stone is finally “in the barrel” or whether he’s simply another victim of the “witch hunt” depends on who you ask.
Stone was arrested by FBI agents in the early hours of Friday morning, in a raid filmed by CNN. The self-described “dirty trickster” has been charged with one count of obstruction, one count of witness tampering, and five counts of false statements. He is due to appear in a Florida court later on Friday.
The indictment does not charge Stone with colluding with the Russian government to swing the 2016 election – the original purview of the Mueller investigation. Rather, it accuses Stone of having prior knowledge of a trove of Democratic Party emails released by WikiLeaks in the runup to the election, and making false statements about that alleged knowledge.
Stone had been expecting to be indicted by Mueller for some time, alluding to the possibility in Instagram posts and urging followers to contribute to his legal defense fund. He had also denigrated the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
For some observers, Stone’s arrest was cause for celebration. “The wily fox has finally been caught,” tweeted Morgan Pehme, who co-directed a 2017 documentary film about Stone. “Roger’s time in the barrel -- and it’s headed over Niagara Falls,” tweeted former Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
Less than half an hour after the raid, former CIA Director turned anti-Trump MSNBC analyst John Brennan appeared on TV to claim that Stone played his part in an “extensive effort to try to influence the outcome of the election, that involved the Russians.” Brennan added that “like many people in the Trump orbit, Mr. Stone has an established track record of being unethical and unprincipled."
Stone’s defenders came out to blast the Mueller investigation. “The Mueller investigation is being used as a political instrument against the administration,” said Fox News analyst Lee Smith. “The American people elected Donald Trump, they did not elect Robert Mueller as a fourth branch of government to continue to attack the election.”
“Where is the Russia collusion?” host Steve Doocy asked on Fox & Friends later Friday morning. “When you look at these seven counts from the grand jury: Obstruction of an official investigation, false statements to congress, and perhaps witness tampering, once again, where is the Russia collusion?”
More than a few commentators were bothered by the presence of CNN cameras at the raid. Whether the FBI or Mueller’s office tipped off the network is unclear, but journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote that “nobody should be comfortable having law enforcement engineer with media outlets the filming of someone's arrest at their home like a reality TV circus.”
Tipping off the scoop-hungry media is a trick worthy of Stone himself. As a staffer on the Nixon campaign in 1972, Stone pioneered the modern concept of the political dirty trick. After donating money to a potential rival to Nixon in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, Stone slipped the receipt to a New Hampshire newspaper, who jumped on the story.
How Stone will plead remains unknown, but the veteran political operator remained defiant until his arrest. In his InfoWars show on Thursday night, he appeared wearing a shirt with the statement “Roger Stone did Nothing Wrong,” and posted a picture of himself and President Trump with the caption “Proud of my President” to Instagram afterwards.
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