Trump directly told about 'gift' WikiLeaks emails earlier than previously known, campaign official testifies

Gates described overhearing Mr Stone and Mr Trump speaking during a car ride from Trump Tower to LaGuardia Airport

Clark Mindock
New York
Tuesday 12 November 2019 20:44 GMT
Rick Gates leaves a federal court in Washington in 2018
Rick Gates leaves a federal court in Washington in 2018 (AP)

The deputy chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has testified that the president was likely personally fed information about Wikileaks’ plans to release Democratic emails hacked by Russia, during the Washington trial of Roger Stone.

Rick Gates said as much on Tuesday during Mr Stone’s trial, where he indicated that he was asked to stay abreast of the anti-secrecy organisation’s plans, and that then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had told him Mr Trump himself wanted updates on the email releases before they were made public.

At one point in late July 2016, Gates said he overheard a phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Stone in which he believed the two were discussing WikiLeaks. Gates said he determined the call was about the organisation’s efforts to publish the stolen emails because Mr Trump said, after hanging up the phone, that “more information would be coming.”

Gates noted that he did not hear what Mr Stone said on that call, which he said took place while they were being driven to LaGuardia Airport from Trump Tower in New York City. But, he testified that Mr Trump indicated the new information would be coming within 30 seconds of hanging up the phone with Mr Stone.

The president, for his part, has indicated in the past that he does not recall being given information about WikiLeaks disclosures before they were put online.

In written responses to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation last year, Mr Trump said he had no recollection of discussing the matter with Mr Stone “or anyone associated with my campaign”.

WikiLeaks published numerous stolen emails in the months leading up to the 2016 election that were seen as damaging to Mr Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

"It was, in a way, a gift," Gates said, indicating that campaign officials were pleased but "in disbelief" after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a June 2016 interview that his group was in possession of those emails.

Mr Stone has been charged with obstructing justice, witness tampering, and lying to the House Intelligence Committee during questioning for its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty.

In resting their case on Tuesday, prosecutors hoped to prove to jurors that Mr Stone had lied to the House committee in September 2017, when he said that he never spoke to any Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks or its founder, Mr Assange.

Gates’ testimony casts doubt on that claim, and he indicated that Manafort and aides Jason Miller and Stephen Miller had held brainstorming sessions “in part on Mr Stone’s predictions” related to WikiLeaks.

Manafort, he said, had even asked him to keep in touch with Mr Stone “from time to time to see if the information was still real and viable”.

Gates has also said that he pursued contact with Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and a current White House aide. Mr Kushner, he said, debriefed him on the hack into the Democratic National Committee, when the emails published by WikiLeaks were stolen.

Gates pleaded guilty last year to charges stemming from the special counsel investigation, but is yet to be sentenced. He also testified last year against Manafort in a trial that led to a more-than seven-year prison sentence.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon also testified during Mr Stone’s trial, saying that Mr Trump’s campaign viewed the political operative as an “access point” to WikiLeaks during the campaign.

Mr Mueller’s investigation concluded that the DNC emails were stolen by Russian state-backed hackers, as a part of Moscow’s efforts to boost Mr Trump’s presidential run.

Reuters contributed to this report

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