In possibly the clearest link yet between the Donald Trump campaign and the reported Russian 2016 election interference operation, former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon gave sworn testimony that Trump adviser and longtime friend Roger Stone was the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks. Stone told the campaign he was aware that WikiLeaks planned to release information with the purpose of “hurting Hillary Clinton and helping the Trump campaign,” Bannon testified on Friday, according to an NBC News report.
According to three separate investigations — by the United States intelligence community, special counsel Robert Mueller, and the Senate Intelligence Committee — the thousands of stolen Democratic emails released by WikiLeaks during the campaign were reportedly obtained and provided to the document-dumping site by the Russian military intelligence bureau, the GRU.
Stone is on trial in a Washington, D.C., federal court on charges that he lied to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks. He also faces witness tampering charges that carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, which could mean that if convicted, the 67-year-old self-described Republican “dirty trickster” could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Friday was the third full day of Stone’s trial. On Wednesday, the trial opened with prosecutors revealing that Stone and Trump spoke via phone on multiple occasions during 2016, at times that coincided with WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked Clinton campaign emails. The evidence may be a contradiction of Trump’s own testimony to Mueller. In his written testimony, Trump said that he could not “recall” speaking with Stone about WikiLeaks.
Bannon on the stand described himself as a reluctant witness for the prosecution, saying he would have declined to testify had he not been slapped with a subpoena compelling his appearance at the trial.
He testified that Stone frequently “implied that he had a connection with WikiLeaks.” But Bannon added that Stone never explicitly claimed to have that connection.
One important question was left unanswered by Bannon’s testimony, according to journalist David Corn, author of the book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.
Corn noted that, per Bannon’s testimony, the Trump campaign saw Stone as its “access point” to WikiLeaks at the same time that the site was involved in the Russian attack on the United States election.
“So at the time, did Trump and his crew *believe* they were somehow colluding via Stone?” Corn asked, via his Twitter account.