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Former Justice Department Lawyer Examines Roger Stone Indictment


It's been a split-screen kind of day here in Washington. On the 35th day of the partial government shutdown, there's a deal to reopen the federal government at least temporarily.


That is one big headline today - the other, the arrest of Roger Stone, President Trump's longtime informal adviser. Before dawn this morning, FBI agents dressed in body armor descended on Stone's house in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

CORNISH: A few hours later, before a Florida judge, Stone was indicted on seven counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements and witness tampering. All the charges stem from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Outside the court, Stone vowed to fight the charges.

KELLY: OK, so let's dig into what those charges are and what they may reveal about the Mueller investigation. To do that, I am joined now by Jennifer Daskal. She was a Justice Department lawyer in the Obama administration. She now teaches at American University's school of law. Jennifer, good to have you here.


KELLY: So your take on the central question of how this indictment may advance our understanding of what happened between Donald Trump and his campaign and Russia.

DASKAL: So in a lot of ways, the indictment confirms what's already been known, but it does so in a very detailed and diligent way, highlighting the great number of channels of communication between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks of course was the recipient of Clinton campaign communications that we know were stolen by Russia.

KELLY: There's a line that's drawing a lot of attention, a kind of a clue that's dangled. This is Page 4 of this 24-page document. It's referring to July 2016, and it describes a senior Trump campaign official who was directed to contact Stone about releases to WikiLeaks. What we don't know is who directed a senior Trump campaign official. We assume Bob Mueller knows.

DASKAL: Right. We assume that Bob Mueller knows. And we think that, I mean, this looks like another building block in what is increasingly looking like a pretty strong collusion case. It's not the smoking gun, but it is another very solid building block that shows that a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone. The Trump campaign was involved. It was active. It was working via Stone to learn about and potentially coordinate to some extent the dumps that were ultimately released of the emails.

KELLY: But when you say a strong collusion case, let me push you on that. We had David Brooks of The New York Times in the studio earlier. And he said, to him, the takeaway is that the president, then candidate, may have surrounded himself with a lot of questionable people. However, would they have needed to go through all of the things that this indictment lays out, as you say, in great detail if there really were a direct channel straight to the Kremlin?

DASKAL: So there's - collusion doesn't necessarily mean that there's a direct channel straight to the Kremlin. There's other means of establishing collusion. And this, again, is a - is one building block that shows a lot of different connections that lead back to the Kremlin. And ultimately, I mean, we have to wait and see what Mueller ultimately produces. But you're seeing, I think, a very careful building structure of what may very well be a collusion case at the end of this.

KELLY: So did we learn anything today in your view that tightens the web around the president himself?

DASKAL: So there's nothing here that leads directly to the president necessarily. Again, there's language about a senior Trump campaign official. There's other language in the indictment about senior campaign Trump officials. And so it certainly suggests that people that were very close to Trump, if not Trump himself, knew a lot of what was going on. But again, there's nothing in here that specifically leads directly back to Trump.

KELLY: And based on your close read, what does this indictment tell us about the direction that Mueller and his team are heading?

DASKAL: Again, I think they're building a very careful case. There - this is now the sixth Trump adviser charged. It's building a real web, and it's suggesting some potential collusion, at least coordination.

KELLY: And next shoe to drop - I mean, you said this is the sixth. Who's left of significant stature and interest but who has not yet been indicted or charged or cleared?

DASKAL: So, you know, it's impossible to predict. We don't know for sure. But of course Bannon's around. Miller's around. There's other folks that are still out there that may have information, and we just got to wait and see.

KELLY: All right, that's Jennifer Daskal. She worked in the Justice Department under President Obama. She now teaches constitutional and national security law at American University. Jennifer Daskal, thanks for stopping by.

DASKAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.