Thirty-four people in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including members of his inner circle, have either been indicted or pleaded guilty over the past 15 months. But even after special counsel Robert Mueller slapped the president’s longtime adviser Roger Stone with federal charges — including lying to Congress — Trump continues to be fixated on past political opponents and long-debunked conspiracies: What about Hillary Clinton’s emails?
After an initial stock reaction (“NO COLLUSION!”) to Stone’s pre-dawn arrest Friday, Trump on Saturday tweeted a slightly more specific response, pointing the finger at other individuals who he thinks have peddled worse falsehoods.
Trump is dredging up a best-of list for his favorite conspiracy theories targeting his political enemies and high-profile detractors. From bringing up the Clinton email investigation to the “Spygate” controversy pushed by conservative media, Trump is doing everything he can to distract from his own problems.
If Roger Stone was indicted for lying to Congress, what about the lying done by Comey, Brennan, Clapper, Lisa Page & lover, Baker and soooo many others? What about Hillary to FBI and her 33,000 deleted Emails? What about Lisa & Peter’s deleted texts & Wiener’s laptop? Much more!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 26, 2019
In one of the biggest moves by Mueller’s office in months, Stone was charged with seven counts Friday, including obstruction of official proceedings, making false statements, and witness tampering. He says he won’t plead guilty to the charges, nor will he testify against the president.
But as Vox’s Jen Kirby points out, the indictment nevertheless tells a clear — if occasionally bizarre — story:
And that story offers some insight into Stone’s interactions with the Trump campaign, including contact about WikiLeaks. It also includes several compelling and sometimes downright bizarre details about Stone’s alleged attempts to intimidate a witness — complete with a very weird threat against a guy’s dog.
Federal prosecutors allege that a senior Trump official “was directed to” reach out to Stone and see if WikiLeaks had any more dirt on the Clinton campaign after it had already leaked a trove of documents and emails from the Democratic National Committee’s network. Stone had previously denied having any documentation linking to discussions with WikiLeaks, but as Kirby notes again, “the indictment makes it clear that Mueller has the receipts”:
Court papers describe multiple email and text exchanges between Stone and someone identified as “Person 1” — believed to be conservative pundit and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi — and “Person 2,” believed to be radio host Randy Credico.
The emails don’t leave much to the imagination. In them, Stone refers to WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, who was granted asylum and has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012.
Within hours of Stone’s arrest, Trump was calling it the “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country!” In a bizarre Twitter rant, the president said criminals at the border were being treated better than his longtime friend. Then he began peddling conspiracy theories that the FBI tipped off reporters with CNN, who were staking out Stone’s house and caught his early-morning arrest on camera. (CNN contends that reporters noted “unusual grand jury activity” and decided to wait outside Stone’s home just in case he was arrested. And it turned out their instincts were right.)
Trump kept the conspiracy theories rolling over the weekend by going after some of his most outspoken critics — some of whom even had served in his own administration. Among the people listed in Trump stream-of-consciousness tweets were James Comey, the former FBI director; John Brennan, the former CIA director; and James Clapper, who served as director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama — all of whom have criticized Trump’s dealings with Russian officials.
His targets didn’t take kindly to the president’s attacks:
Your cabal of unprincipled, unethical, dishonest, and sycophantic cronies is being methodically brought to justice. We all know where this trail leads. If your utter incompetence is not enough to run you out of office, your increasingly obvious political corruption surely will. https://t.co/S6DMeGICXZ— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) January 26, 2019
Trump has frequently made himself out as the victim of his own story, pushing the idea that the media treats him unfairly and the justice system is targeting him and his associates unequally compared to Democratic operatives, as he references in his tweet Saturday. He’s also made a name for himself by elevating dangerous conspiracy theories or racist tropes.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that at a time when he’s most under fire, he’s doing everything he can to deflect the criticism.