The 2016 Trump election campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails potentially damaging to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, reaching all the way to Trump, the Republican’s former deputy campaign chairman testified in court on Tuesday.
Rick Gates, testifying in the criminal trial of President Donald Trump’s longtime political adviser Roger Stone, said he witnessed a call with Trump and Stone related to WikiLeaks website in July 2016.
WikiLeaks disclosed numerous stolen emails in the months before the election that damaged Clinton. Although Gates acknowledged he could not hear the contents of the call, he said that within 30 seconds or so of Trump hanging up with Stone, Trump said that more information would be coming from WikiLeaks.
The testimony by Gates, who appeared under a cooperation agreement, could hurt Stone as he faces charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russian interference in the election. Stone has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors at Stone’s trial in federal court in Washington rested the government’s case on Tuesday and the defense will begin presenting its case later in the day.
Prosecutors sought to prove to jurors that Stone lied to the committee in September 2017 by stating that he never spoke to Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks or the website’s founder, Julian Assange.
Then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and aides Jason Miller and Stephen Miller held brainstorming sessions based “in part on Mr. Stone’s predictions” about WikiLeaks, Gates said. Manafort instructed Gates to keep in touch with Stone “from time to time to see if the information was still real and viable,” he said.
Gates testified that Stone also sought contact information for Trump son-in-law, and current White House aide, Jared Kushner to debrief him on the hack of the Democratic National Committee, where the emails were stolen.
Gates pled guilty last year to charges also arising from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s operation of hacking and propaganda to disrupt the election.
In a court filing on Monday, the prosecution said the testimony by Gates – who also testified last year against Manafort in a trial in which Manafort was convicted and sent to prison for 7-1/2 years – will conclude his cooperation with the government.
The prosecution asked a judge to set a mid-December sentencing date for Gates.
Another prominent prosecution witness, former Trump campaign chief executive and White House strategist Steve Bannon, testified on Friday that Stone was viewed by Trump’s campaign as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and discussed connections to WikiLeaks and Assange at the time.
Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies determined the emails released by WikiLeaks were stolen by Russian state-backed hackers as part of Moscow’s efforts to boost Trump’s candidacy.
The Intelligence Committee is now spearheading the House impeachment inquiry against Trump over his request in July to Ukraine that Kiev officials investigate a Democratic 2020 election rival Joe Biden.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)