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Trump confidant Roger Stone pleads not guilty to false statements, obstruction charges

Roger Stone in December 2018. Bloomberg photo by Al Drago.

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Stone was indicted last week and accused of lying about his efforts to gather information about hacked Democratic Party emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official before the election.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Deborah A. Robinson, Stone's plea was entered by his lawyer, Robert C. Buschel.

"A plea of not guilty is entered," Robinson said in response.

As Stone walked into the courthouse Tuesday morning, some onlookers chanted "lock him up!" while others screamed their support for him and the president. Afterward, some of those same people engaged in angry, profanity-laced arguments about the case.

After his indictment, Stone embarked on a blitz of weekend media appearances to declare his innocence, criticize prosecutors, and repeat his pledge that he would not testify against the president.

He faces charges of lying, obstruction and witness tampering.

At an initial court appearance Friday in Florida after his arrest at his Fort Lauderdale home, the 66-year-old Stone appeared in shackles but was released on $250,000 bond.

Prosecutors asked for no change to the terms of Stone's release. He is limited to travel between South Florida, Washington and New York City, and barred from possessing or applying for a passport.

"We are requesting no change in conditions of release that were imposed by the court in Florida. We would like all the same conditions to apply that were set by the court down there," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando told the judge.

The judge agreed with those conditions and scheduled the next court hearing for Feb. 1.

Stone, a veteran GOP operative and friend of Trump for four decades, briefly advised the presidential campaign in 2015 and remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election.

The indictment centers on Stone's alleged efforts to learn when potentially damaging internal emails from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign would be released by Julian Assange, WikiLeaks's leader.

U.S. authorities in July indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officers on charges they hacked Democrats' computers, stole their data and published those files to disrupt the 2016 election, using as one of their conduits WikiLeaks, the global anti-secrecy group, which publicized the emails during the campaign's final months.

In Stone's indictment, prosecutors charged that after the initial July 22, 2016, release of stolen emails, "a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton campaign." The indictment does not name the campaign official or who directed the alleged outreach to Stone.

The indictment states that Stone later told the campaign about potential future releases by "Organization 1," which people familiar with the case said is WikiLeaks.

Stone has given numerous media interviews during the months that he's been under investigation and preempted prosecutors by publicly releasing many of the emails and texts he knew they were examining before they could be used in legal action.

Since his arrest, Stone all but invited a federal judge to impose a gag order, saying on social media that a directive to mute him is "the fervent wish of the Deep State."

Stone got his start in politics working for Richard Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign and has a tattoo on his back of the disgraced ex-president. Since then, he has advised Republican and Libertarian candidates, including Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and Gary Johnson.

Stone's case will go next before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District of Columbia for a scheduling hearing.

In other Mueller cases assigned to her, Jackson - a former federal prosecutor, white-collar defense attorney and 2011 appointee of President Barack Obama - has not been reluctant to rein in attorneys and parties whose out-of-court comments she found likely to lead to pretrial publicity that might taint a jury or jeopardize a fair trial.

Jackson issued a gag order days after an attorney for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave a statement outside the federal courthouse attacking the special counsel investigation and defending his client to reporters in November 2017.

Stone has repeatedly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. He has said he had no advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks held, adding that predictions he made about the group's plans were based on Assange's public comments and tips from associates.

Stone and WikiLeaks and Assange have said they never communicated with each other.

The seven-count indictment against Stone asserts that after the election, he lied in congressional testimony about his activities and efforts to learn about the release of potentially damaging emails and that he attempted to persuade another witness, identified only as "Person 2," to refuse to talk to the House Intelligence Committee.

People close to the case said Person 2 is New York comedian Randy Credico. A lawyer for Credico, Martin Stolar, has declined to comment.---

This article was written by Spencer S. Hsu, Ann E. Marimow and Devlin Barrett reporters for The Washington Post. The Washington Post's Rosalind S. Helderman, Lori Rozsa and Manuel Roig-Franzia contributed to this report.

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