Washington — Former White House senior counselor Steve Bannon began his roughly 30 minutes of testimony in the trial of Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser, by saying, "I've been compelled to testify" and "would not come voluntarily."
The government tried in its questioning of Bannon to establish that the Trump campaign communicated with Stone about impending WikiLeaks dumps of Democrats' emails during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Prosecutor Michael Marando asked Bannon whether Stone had bragged about his relationship with WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. Bannon replied that while Stone mentioned it "a lot in the media," this was not something he would bring up "all the time." He added, "We didn't talk that often — only every couple of weeks."
Marando read the transcript of Bannon's grand jury testimony, noting that Bannon had said, "I think it was generally believed that the [Trump campaign's] access point [to Assange] would be Roger Stone."
Under cross examination by Stone's attorney, Robert Buschel, Bannon stated that the Trump campaign had no official "access point," per se. But he also said Stone would be considered a source of information on WikiLeaks because Stone had implied he had a connection. Buschel tried to downplay the emails Stone had sent to Bannon about the WikiLeak dumps of Democrats' emails, by suggesting that everyone from the "kid in the mailroom to the guy on the street" had an idea about how to fix the Trump campaign.
However, when Bannon was asked why he emailed Stone on Oct 4, 2016 — the date WikiLeaks announced the dump of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails — Bannon replied, "Because Roger was the guy who knew about WikiLeaks and knew Julian Assange."
Bannon could not name another person affiliated with the Trump campaign who claimed to be in contact with WikiLeaks besides Stone.
Prosecutors are presenting evidence that Stone tried to get information to and from Assange and use the hacked emails and information from Assange to influence the 2016 election.
Stone is fighting charges that he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering involving radio personality Randy Credico. He told the House Intelligence Committee that Credico was his only backchannel to Assange. However, prosecutors allege that Stone was in fact relying on another associate, too, named Jerome Corsi, to try to contact Assange, and he never mentioned Corsi to Congress. Credico testified that Stone had bragged to him about having his own backchannel and even did so publicly before Credico made his own contact with Assange.
Stone also allegedly pressured Credico to plead the 5th and not cooperate with Congress and the Mueller investigation. He allegedly threatened him and his dog with harm if he did. The jurors were shown texts from Stone telling Credico to, "Do your Frank Pentangeli" in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. If you're familiar with the "Godfather" movies, you may recall Frank Pentangeli lies to Congress, pretending not to know anything incriminating about the Corleone family.
Prosecutors told the court earlier this week that Stone spoke to Mr. Trump six times over the course of several weeks in June and July 2016, including on the day the Democratic National Committee announced it had been hacked. The U.S. intelligence community determined the hack was the work of a sophisticated campaign by Russian intelligence operatives to boost Mr. Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
The indictment claims that Stone spoke to senior Trump campaign officials about information that could damage Clinton's campaign. The indictment also alleges that Stone was contacted by senior Trump campaign officials to inquire about future releases that WikiLeaks, identified as "Organization 1" in the indictment, might have.