“Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION”
That was President Donald Trump’s first public statement — made on Twitter, of course — after his longtime ally Roger Stone was arrested on federal charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office Friday.
Trump has repeatedly referred to the Russia investigation as a “witch hunt,” but this is his first direct response to the arrest and indictment of Stone, who was arrested by the FBI early Friday morning. Stone was charged with seven counts, including making false statements and witness tampering.
Stone worked on Trump’s campaign until August 2015, after which he served as an informal adviser to Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, according to prosecutors, Stone tried to communicate with WikiLeaks to find out what kind of damaging information it might have about Hillary Clinton, and was in touch with Trump campaign officials about those efforts.
The president didn’t address any of the charges against Stone directly, but instead delivered a somewhat stream-of-consciousness response to Stone’s arrest. “Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better,” he wrote, though it’s unclear if he’s referring to himself or Stone here.
Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better. Who alerted CNN to be there?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2019
He concluded: “Who alerted CNN to be there?”
CNN obtained exclusive footage of Stone as the FBI approached his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the only news organization on the scene at the time of his arrest. Trump, who often blasts CNN as “fake news,” was repeating a conspiracy theory that the FBI tipped off the network to Stone’s arrest.
Journalist Greta Van Susteren posited this theory on Twitter Friday morning, suggesting that Mueller’s office was in cahoots with CNN:
CNN cameras were at the raid of Roger Stone...so FBI obviously tipped off CNN...even if you don’t like Stone, it is curious why Mueller’s office tipped off CNN instead of trying to quietly arrest Stone;quiet arrests are more likely to be safe to the FBI and the person arrested— Greta Van Susteren (@greta) January 25, 2019
CNN reporters immediately fired back, basically saying it was just journalists doing their jobs. “Our reporters who cover this story everyday noticed unusual activity at Grand Jury and went to his home,” CNN anchor Jim Sciutto wrote. “That’s good journalism, which I know you respect. Not a tip.”
Sciutto also pointed out that Mueller’s office doesn’t leak and very, very rarely comments to the media.
No. Our reporters who cover this story everyday noticed unusual activity at Grand Jury and went to his home. That’s good journalism, which I know you respect. Not a tip. And anyone who covers Mueller knows Mueller’s office does not tip. https://t.co/H3guIr94uK— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) January 25, 2019
Other CNN journalists also chimed in in response to Van Susteren’s and Trump’s insinuations. (After the pile-on, Van Susteren later clarified that she was crediting CNN for acting on a tip and/or doing good reporting.)
Our reporter on the scene @davidgshortell reported on air that there was unusual grand jury activity yesterday so decided to stake out — a decision any other reporter/outlet could have made.— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) January 25, 2019
Either way, the conspiracy theory is out there, which means Trump isn’t likely to let it go anytime soon and will probably continue to use it as a distraction from the real story: that Mueller’s office has indicted yet another Trump associate, this time for lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign and trying to prevent another witness from testifying.
Trump’s attorney Jay Sekulow also tried to downplay Stone’s indictment in a statement Friday: “The indictment today does not allege Russian collusion by Roger Stone or anyone else. Rather, the indictment focuses on alleged false statements made to Congress.”
But the charges against Stone bring the total up to 34 indictments or guilty pleas from people in the special counsel’s probe so far.