The suspension appeared to come after the former adviser to President Trump’s election campaign went on a tirade on the social media site Friday, taking aim at CNN, particularly “CNN Tonight” anchor Don Lemon and “The Lead” anchor Jake Tapper.
In the profanity-laced tirade, Stone called certain employees of the network “human excrement” and accused them of spreading lies, according to copies of the tweets posted online by Mediaite.
The series of tweets came after CNN reported that a grand jury had approved the first charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment about individual accounts, but pointed The Hill to the social media site’s policy on abusive behavior, which prohibits “behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user’s voice.”
It’s not the first time Stone’s had his Twitter account suspended. It was temporarily taken down in April after he made threatening remarks to Laura Keiter, the communications director for Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog group.
His account was suspended before that in March for apparently violating the social media site’s rules.
Caught off guard by reports of criminal charges in the Russia probe, Trump advisers sought to keep up their political attacks and divert attention from allegations of Russian collusion.
The White House has been anticipating for months that special counsel Robert Mueller would eventually file criminal charges in his Russia investigation. But President Donald Trump, his lawyers and senior administration officials were all caught off guard by the news.
Two of Trump’s top lawyers were traveling out of town when the first report broke Friday night that a federal grand jury had approved the first indictment in the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. One of Trump’s personal attorneys, Ty Cobb, was relaxing on his deck in South Carolina, while the entire team was still working to confirm the veracity of the CNN report over the weekend.
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The lack of information, on a case that could have major ramifications for the president, left many current and former Trump advisers livid, focusing their rage on how the information leaked and on a forever target: Hillary Clinton.
“It is unusual for prosecutors to file indictments under seal and then have it leak out,” said Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for Trump’s legal team, noting that the only people in the loop would be the prosecutors and agents on Mueller’s team, the grand jurors and the judge. “This was an ill-advised leak of information,” Corallo added. “I’m disgusted by the tactics of the prosecutors to leak the information.”
That leak, he said, left the White House in an uncomfortable position. “All you can do is wait and see,” he said.
The latest news came at a point of low morale in the West Wing, where many officials see the one-year mark of the administration approaching and are starting to consider their graceful departures. The Trump administration has also struggled to deliver major legislative achievements on the president’s key priorities such as health care, which has contributed to the Republican congressional leadership’s do-or-die bind on passing tax reform legislation.
On Saturday, the president appeared to be abiding by his wait-and-see strategy on Russia. His Twitter feed remained unusually quiet for a weekend morning, and he spent the warm fall day at his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
In recent days, the president has been sticking to his long-held mantra when it comes to Russia, according to associates who have spoken with him. He maintains that Mueller is on a wild goose chase if he’s trying to find any connection between the president and Russia, because there’s nothing to find.
But silence from the commander-in-chief didn’t stop some finger pointing from his closest advisers over the weekend, as people waited to see the size of the axe that might fall as early as Monday.
Some Trump allies expressed skepticism of the go-along-to-get-along legal strategy advanced by the president’s personal attorneys, Cobb and John Dowd. The two have been the main internal proponents of a strategy to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation by turning over all emails and documents requested. That they were given no head’s up about the charges on Friday “is a huge indictment of their cooperation strategy,” said one close Trump ally.
Others, however, said that charge was unfair until it was clear who the indictment applies to — and if it even applies to someone with any connection to the White House.
The president’s political adversaries, however, were not waiting to see if the person under indictment was connected to the White House before deciding the story spelled bad news for Trump.
“It obviously should be a matter of concern,” said David Axelrod, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama. “The indictment of associates of the president is never good news. Even if the charges are not directly related to the campaign or the president, this is the way prosecutors often work in unraveling larger puzzles.”
White House officials tried to downplay the significance of the upcoming indictments, distancing themselves from likely targets such as former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“This was a tremendously successful week,” counselor Kellyanne Conway said in a text message Saturday, slapping away any sense of dread building in the West Wing. “Budget passed, which is a critical step toward tax cuts; GDP again at 3%; ‘Russia collusion’ boomeranged toward the Democrats; the President and the First Lady delivered a major policy speech and nationwide call to action on opioids and drug demand; POTUS is preparing for his first trip as President to Asia.”
The rest of the administration’s media strategy on Saturday consisted of a scramble to shift any conversation about Russian collusion over to Hillary Clinton’s failed campaign — a difficult sell when it was former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta whose personal email account was hacked by the Russians last year. “The evidence Clinton campaign, DNC & Russia colluded to influence the election is indisputable,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted Saturday morning, with a link to an article from The Federalist website detailing how Democrats paid for the Steele dossier on Russia.
Outside surrogates pushed the same line. “The speculation is so insane right now,” former Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski told Fox News on Saturday. “What we should be focusing on are the continued lies of the Clinton administration.” It was not clear what “Clinton administration” he was referring to.
Sebastian Gorka, a former White House official who now runs a pro-Trump super PAC, said in an interview: “It’s very peculiar that just as we’re finding out about Hillary’s responsibility with the dodgy dossier, now’s the time that we can expect some action out of the special prosecutor’s office. It’s far too suspicious.”
The president’s lawyers and political aides are bracing for the first charges just five months into the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
President Donald Trump’s White House and personal lawyers scrambled Saturday to learn where the knife might fall in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, triggering a guessing game among aides after days of trying to turn attention away from allegations of collusion with Russia during the election.
Attorneys involved in the case said their cellphones have been ringing nonstop as they connected with each other, and with reporters, trying to gather more concrete details after a CNN report Friday night that a federal grand jury had approved the first charges in the Russia investigation.
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While the report did not cite names, attorneys close to the case said they were discussing whether the indictment was for two known Mueller targets: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort or former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Several attorneys who said they were in touch with the Manafort and Flynn lawyers said they had not been notified of any matter related to an indictment — which is customary in a white-collar criminal investigation — leading them to believe it wasn’t either of those two former high-ranking Trump aides. An attorney for Manafort did not respond to a request for comment. Michael Flynn’s attorney, Robert Kelner, declined to comment.
The attorneys close to the case also said they wouldn’t be surprised if the charges were targeting Flynn or Manafort family members, or a longtime accountant or lawyer.
Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller’s top attorneys and a frequent presence over the last month at the grand jury proceedings in Washington, including on Friday, was known to use that tactic to gain advantage when attempting to prosecute Enron executives in the mid-2000s. “That moves you toward making a deal when the son or a wife is indicted,” said a white-collar attorney familiar with the Mueller probe.
For example, an indictment of Flynn’s son, who worked for his father’s lobbying firm, could put pressure on Flynn to begin to cooperate with investigators. Flynn and his son have been under scrutiny for their lobbying work on behalf of a Turkish client with ties to the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Flynn Jr. also accompanied his father to Moscow in December 2015 for a paid speech, which Putin attended, celebrating the Russian propaganda outlet RT. Michael Flynn did not disclose the payments in his application to renew his security clearance in 2016; the Democratic and GOP leaders of the House Oversight Committee earlier this year said that was likely an illegal omission.
Barry Coburn, Michael Flynn Jr.’s attorney, also declined to comment. Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said he had no insight into the CNN story or any Mueller indictments.
Aaron May, an attorney for Jeffrey Yohai, Manafort’s son-in-law, who has come under scrutiny for real estate transactions conducted with Paul Manafort, said he couldn’t talk about the case, but not because he was under any kind of court order. “I don’t know,” he said.
Several lawyers close to the case were trying to gauge the accuracy of the original report, which POLITICO has not independently confirmed. Speculation also was rising over who would release information that is sealed by a federal judge. “If the leaker isn’t the defense, that could be a legal issue,” said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, though he said that his “gut” suggests the story came from a defense attorney “who was told to have his client in court on Monday.”
A spokesman for Mueller, Peter Carr, declined to comment.
While Trump’s lawyers said they were just as in the dark in deducing what was happening on the Mueller indictment front, they noted White House staff interviews were continuing. They said the president’s team was adamant about maintaining a cooperative approach with the special counsel — even though the public push back from the president, his White House communications staff and even his 2020 reelection campaign were headed in a very different direction.
As Friday night’s news dominated the cable airwaves, the president on Twitter posted a link to a New York Post tabloid op-ed with the headline, “How Team Hillary played the press for fools on Russia” along with a 34-second video titled “WHAT HAPPENED.”
Trump earlier on Friday also went after the Russia investigations and added a jab at his 2016 election rival Hillary Clinton, tweeting, “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”
During her daily press briefing at the White House on Friday, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s tweet about an expensive investigation wasn’t just about the Mueller probe. “That’s not the only investigation that’s taking place. Congress has spent a great deal of time on this — a better part of a year. All of your news organizations have actually spent probably a lot of money on this as well, which we would consider probably a pretty big waste,” she said.
The Trump campaign in a text message to supporters just before the CNN story broke blasted out a fundraising solicitation for upwards of $2,700 from “Trump Headquarters” with a subject line, “RUSSIA?”
“The Script Has Been Flipped,” the campaign’s website read. “Crooked Hillary and the DNC have been EXPOSED paying a company to use a foreign agent to take down my Presidency. … And the company they used has ties to Russia. I need the IMMEDIATE support of the American people. Contribute now and DEMAND answers from Crooked Hillary and the DNC!”
GOP operative and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone went on a Twitter tear against CNN commentators who were dissecting their scoop, tweeting multiple derogatory messages at the anchor. “If Carl Bernstein says something the overwhelming odds are that it’s false lied about Watergate lying lying now” he posted a few minutes later.
Stone is a longtime Trump associate who helped the billionaire set up an exploratory run for president in 1999 and became an informal adviser to his 2016 campaign. He is also a former Manafort lobbying partner.
Stone kept up the attacks in a pre-dawn email Saturday to POLITICO, this time training his fire on Mueller. “I hear Mueller has indicted Manafort’s driver for double parking and nailing Manafort’s housekeeper for tearing the tags off sofa cushions,” Stone wrote, calling for the former FBI director to be “prosecuted for his crimes.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, an outspoken House Intelligence Committee member, suggested via Twitter that Republicans would face their own troubles with their recent moves to open investigations into Clinton and the DNC. “Please, everyone, save this tweet. Trust me. #TrumpRussia,” the California Democrat wrote on Twitter, citing a @GOP message with the same line used by the Trump campaign: “The script has flipped on the Russia investigation.”
A Mueller indictment in a little over five months since his mid-May appointment — if accurate — would mean movement at a much faster pace than the 17-month average seen in the nine previous independent counsel and special counsel cases that date back to the Carter administration where any criminal charges got filed, according to a POLITICO analysis of the historical legal record.
Mueller has been working off others’ efforts. In his testimony earlier this year to the Senate, former FBI Director James Comey explained that the FBI had been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election since July 2016. And Manafort’s work in Ukraine had been under DOJ scrutiny since as far back as 2014, according to an AP report this spring.
The only case that would have moved at a faster pace than Mueller’s — Whitewater — had certain similar circumstances.
In that probe, the first independent counsel, Robert Fiske, inherited a number of earlier investigative efforts involving the Clintons’ land deals in Arkansas that sped along his first major action just two months after his January 1994 appointment. Fiske that March notched a guilty plea on federal fraud charges against David Hale, an Arkansas political insider and former municipal judge who said Bill Clinton as governor had pressured him to approve an illegal government-subsidized loan. Hale agreed to cooperate with Fiske as part of the wider Whitewater investigation.
For comparison, it took special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald nearly 22 months until October 2005 to indict Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for making false statements to the FBI, obstruction of justice and perjury over his testimony before the federal grand jury. Independent counsel David Barrett needed almost 28 months in his investigation of Clinton HUD Secretary Henry Cisernos, though the first charges were filed in September 1997 against Cisernos’s mistress, Linda Medlar-Jones, as well as her sister and brother-in-law, Patsy and Allen Wooten, on multiple charges including fraud, false statements, money laundering and conspiracy surrounding the purchase of a home financed by money from Cisernos.
A former senior DOJ official who has worked with Mueller — but was unable himself to confirm the latest report — said that if true it would be well within the former FBI director’s character to bring an indictment this soon. “Bob combines thoroughness and speed,” the former official said.
Josh Gerstein and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.
Republicans are on the offensive, claiming the new funding revelations as evidence the investigations into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia were fixed against them from the start. Democrats are trying to keep the focus on the contents of the memo and say it doesn’t matter who paid for it.
The saga took another bizarre twist on Friday when the conservative news outlet Washington Free Beacon said it paid the same opposition research firm used by the Democrats for dirt on Trump and other GOP candidates about six months earlier.
Here is a look at what we know about the controversial document at the center of the Russia investigation after the latest turn of events.
The document was passed around in Washington during the 2016 election, but was not widely known about until CNN reported that former FBI director James Comey had briefed President Trump and former President Obama on its existence. Shortly after that, BuzzFeed published it online.
Citing senior Russian government officials and intelligence officers, the dossier claims that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.” Steele writes that Trump and his inner circle “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin” on Hillary Clinton.
Steele also alleges that Trump has deep financial ties to key Russian figures that the Kremlin could use to blackmail him, and it contains a series of lewd allegations about the president.
Trump has called the memo “fake” and disputes all of the allegations. Comey described the memo as “salacious and unverified” in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Some of the allegations appear to have been debunked, like a claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen travelled to Prague during the election to meet with a Russian official.
The specific claims about campaign collusion have not been verified and are under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team.
But the broad outline of the memo — that the Russians sought to interfere in U.S. politics through email hacking and disinformation campaigns — has been confirmed by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Who paid for it?
The Washington Post reported this week that Clinton’s campaign and the DNC funded the dossier.
The transaction passed through Democratic lawyer Marc Elias of the law firm Perkins Coie. Elias contracted the work out to opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which had the connection to Steele, the former British spy.
While none of the principals have denied that the Clinton campaign and DNC funded the dossier through payments to Perkins Coie, everyone involved is claiming they did not know about the project.
CNN reported that both Wasserman Schultz and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta testified in a closed-door briefing with congressional investigators that they knew nothing about it. Notably, Elias is Podesta’s lawyer and was present for that meeting with lawmakers, raising questions about whether he should have interjected.
The story took on another layer of complexity on Friday, when the conservative news outlet Washington Free Beacon told congressional investigators it hired Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm used by the Democrats — for opposition research on Trump and all of the GOP candidates in September 2015.
The Free Beacon insists that the work was separate from the dossier — that it had no connection to the British spy or the Democratic law firm and that none of the information it gathered ended up in the Steele memo.
The Clinton campaign and the DNC are believed to have taken over the project in April 2016, once Trump became the nominee, and oversaw the compilation and completion of the dossier from there.
Democrats insist that the content of the memo is more important than who paid for it.
But their involvement has given ammunition to Trump and Republicans to claim that Mueller’s investigation is a political witch hunt based on Clinton-backed opposition research.
They argue that Donald Trump Jr. was put through the ringer for trying and failing to secure Clinton campaign dirt from a Russian lawyer in 2016. The dossier is evidence the Clinton campaign successfully secured and published opposition research from a foreign spy based on Russian government sources during the campaign, Republicans say.
Who put it together?
The document was produced by Fusion GPS, a Washington strategic intelligence firm cofounded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson in 2012.
In 2016, the firm hired Steele to dig into any connections between Trump, then a Republican presidential candidate, and the Russian government.
The firm has produced research for Democrats battling Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Planned Parenthood, in addition to other clients.
But it has attracted particular scrutiny for its work for a U.S. law firm that defended Prevezon Holdings, which until May was locked in a legal battle with the U.S. government over allegations the company’s executives fraudulently obtained a $230 million tax refund from the Russian treasury.
Also working the case defending Prevezon was Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 before which Donald Trump Jr. was offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya is known for her work lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law aimed at punishing human rights abusers in Russia.
Bill Browder, a proponent of the Magnitsky Act, has accused Fusion GPS of taking money from the Russian government and contributing to a campaign against the law in the spring and summer of 2016.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is now investigating whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Simpson met with Senate Judiciary Committees staffers in August.
The firm maintains that its actions were lawful.
Still, the developments have provided fodder for Republicans, and those seeking to discredit the firm have cited its alleged ties to the Russian government.
But it’s unclear how central the information it contained became to the bureau’s investigation, which is now being handled by the special counsel. Steele has reportedly briefed federal investigators on the sources behind his report.
And some reports have also suggested that the dossier made up at least part of the basis for an application for a surveillance warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
A summary of the memos was attached to a classified report prepared by the Obama administration assessing that the Russian government attempted to swing the 2016 election.
Still, former CIA Director John Brennan has testified publicly that the summary “was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done.”
But some Republicans — as well as the White House — have sought to cast doubt on the veracity and motivation behind the dossier’s creation and suggested that it’s the basis of the federal investigation.
What is Congress doing about it?
Information on the dossier — its origins, its contents and its use — has been a hotly-sought commodity on Capitol Hill for months.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has for weeks pressed the FBI to explain how it sought to ensure that the dossier was not the source of foreign intelligence used in its Russia investigation.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in August issued unilateral subpoenas to the FBI and the Justice Department to turn over documents that would shed light on the bureau’s relationship with Steele. He has been wrangling with Justice Department lawyers through several missed deadlines since then.