In a dramatic testimony that one legal expert, via Twitter, called “real evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing” by Donald Trump, a top 2016 Trump campaign official testified that Trump knew in advance of at least one WikiLeaks dump of hacked Democratic emails.
The testimony, by Trump’s 2016 deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, came on Tuesday in what is expected to be the final day of testimony in the Roger Stone trial. A longtime friend and political advisor to Trump, Stone faces charges of lying to Congress about his own contacts with WikiLeaks, as well as charges of witness tampering.
In testimony on Friday, Trump’s campaign chief Steve Bannon — the last of three campaign bosses in the 2016 Trump campaign — said that Stone was the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks. Stone told the campaign that he knew WikiLeaks was in possession of material that it planned to release with the intention of “hurting [Democratic candidate] Hillary Clinton and helping the Trump campaign,” Bannon testified.
On Tuesday, Gates testified that he was riding in a Chevy Suburban SUV with Trump being driven to LaGuardia Airport in New York, when Trump and Stone spoke briefly on the phone, according to a Washington Post account of Gates’s testimony.
Following the conversation with Stone, Trump “indicated more information would be coming” from WikiLeaks, Gates testified.
The testimony was significant because in his 2018 written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump answered “I do not recall,” in response to a Mueller question about whether he had ever discussed WikiLeaks with Stone.
At the time of the Trump-Stone call, Gates testified that WikiLeaks had already released one set of hacked Democratic Party internal emails. The emails at that time had been linked in public media reports to Russian government hackers who gave them to WikiLeaks for distribution.
If the Gates testimony is accurate, it would suggest Trump had personal knowledge that his campaign was colluding, at least indirectly, with a Russian operation to interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf.
Gates pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation, before Mueller took over. In exchange for being granted the opportunity to plead to lesser charges than he would have otherwise faced, Gates has cooperated with Mueller’s investigation and other federal prosecutors, since at least February 2018.
“People should resist the temptation to shrug this off as just confirmation of what we already knew,” wrote Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Susan Hennessy, on her Twitter account, following the Gates testimony. “This is real evidence of serious criminal wrongdoing by the president.”
Gates testified that two United States Secret Service Agents were also in the car during the Trump-Stone call, a development Hennessy via Twitter called “incredibly significant.”
The testimony indicates that other witnesses besides Gates could confirm that Trump “gave false written answers to investigators in violation of the law,” Hennessey wrote.