Just hours after Julian Assange's arrest in April, Donald Trump fielded a question from reporters about the developments. "I know nothing about WikiLeaks," the president replied. "It's not my thing."
Even by Trump standards, this was ridiculously untrue, and the lie led to ample coverage of the Republican's enthusiastic embrace of WikiLeaks when it was disseminating materials stolen by Russia in order to help Trump gain power. The White House tried to spin away the president's obvious falsehood, but it did not go well.
Of course, Trump's dubious claims on the subject weren't limited to his public rhetoric. The president also submitted written responses as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Russia scandal, and Trump claimed he didn't remember receiving advance word on WikiLeaks disclosures or discussing WikiLeaks with longtime associate Roger Stone.
It's against this backdrop that Stone is now on trial, accused of, among other things, obstructing justice and lying as part of the investigation into Russia's attack on our 2016 elections. And while time will tell what happens to the longtime Republican operative, of greater national significance is what we're learning by way of the trial about Donald Trump. Reuters reported this morning:
The 2016 Trump election campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails potentially damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, reaching all the way to Trump, the Republican's former deputy campaign chairman testified in court on Tuesday.Rick Gates, testifying in the criminal trial of President Donald Trump's longtime political adviser Roger Stone, said he witnessed a call with Trump and Stone related to WikiLeaks website in July 2016.
Gates, you'll recall, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors while awaiting sentencing in his own criminal case, and as we were reminded this morning, Trump's former deputy campaign chairman has quite a few pertinent details to share on what transpired behind the scenes.
Indeed, Gates testified this morning that within 30 seconds of Trump's phone conversation with Stone, the future president told his team about upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures.
What's more, the Associated Press, also reporting on Gates' testimony, added that Stone wanted to contact Jared Kushner in order to "debrief" Trump's son-in-law "about hacked emails that were damaging to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign." All of this comes a week after Steve Bannon also testified in the trial, describing Stone as an "access point" to WikiLeaks.
None of this helps Roger Stone's criminal defense, but more importantly, Gates' testimony doesn't do the man in the Oval Office any favors, either.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors rested their case this morning.
* Update: This wasn't clear in some of the earlier reporting, but Politico's report noted, Roger Stone first told one of Donald Trump’s top aides in April 2016 that WikiLeaks had plans to dump information in the heat of the presidential race, kickstarting a scramble inside the campaign to take advantage of the expected releases.... The revelation means the Trump campaign was aware of WikiLeaks' election-year plans much earlier than previously understood. And it also shows that the president was involved in conversations about the issue, something he has previously denied."