The rare, dramatic video from CNN Friday capturing the early morning FBI raid of longtime Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone’s Florida home was the product of good instincts, some key clues, more than a year of observing comings at the DC federal courthouse and the special counsel’s office – and a little luck on the timing.
CNN producer David Shortell and photojournalist Gilbert De La Rosa were outside Stone’s home Friday morning to witness the FBI approaching Stone’s door to arrest him on a seven-count indictment that special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury approved a day earlier.
They were there staking out Stone because there was just enough evidence lurking in the special counsel’s activity over the past week that CNN’s team covering the Mueller investigation placed a bet that Stone could be arrested as early as Friday.
Stone’s possible indictment has been looming for months now, as Mueller has interviewed many of his associates and others connected to the longtime Trump confidante, whose political career dates back to President Richard Nixon.
The first clue that the indictment was imminent came last week from CNN’s Sara Murray, who was reporting on the upcoming grand jury appearance of Jerome Corsi’s stepson. As the stepson’s legal team negotiated a date for testimony, they were told to pick any day but Friday – an indication Mueller’s team expected to be busy Friday, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Now, one plausible explanation was the fact there was already one event on the books for Friday – a Paul Manafort court hearing – but Mueller had convened the grand jury on previous days where court hearings were scheduled or other major court filing activity occurred in the special counsel’s open cases.
And Mueller’s grand jury nearly always meets on Fridays – moving to a different day was unusual. In fact, CNN’s Katelyn Polantz and Laura Robinson observed that the last time the grand jury convened on a Thursday, Russian officials were indicted by Mueller the next day.
More clues emerged at court on Thursday morning.
At the DC federal courthouse Thursday, Robinson spotted at least two prosecutors, Andrew Goldstein and Aaron Zelinsky, visiting with the grand jury. They stayed convened for more than an hour after Corsi’s stepson Andrew Stettner testified to the grand jury.
Zelinsky earlier in the day had been spotted by CNN’s Em Steck and Sam Fossum wheeling a suitcase with him to work, then leaving with it just after 2:30 p.m. The contents inside were unknown, though it suggested the possibility he could be getting ready to travel. (The special counsel’s office would later confirm Friday that Zelinsky was in the Florida courtroom for Stone’s appearance.)
With all those clues, it was decided to send Shortell from Washington to Florida to stake out Stone’s house Friday morning, just in case the clues did add up to something.
As of Thursday night, neither Stone nor his attorney believed he would be arrested on Friday morning. They also were convinced that Stone would have an opportunity to turn himself in, rather than an unexpected pre-dawn arrest at home.
Shortell and DeLaRosa arrived at Stone’s home at 5 a.m., and the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, house was totally dark.
For roughly an hour, it wasn’t clear whether the stakeout would turn out to be a bust. But then just after 6 a.m., a number of law enforcement vehicles with lights flashing but no sirens pulled in front of Stone’s home on a darkened street.
About a dozen officers with heavy weapons and tactical vests fanned out across Stone’s lawn. Law enforcement shined a flashlight into Stone’s front door, and one officer rapped against it, shouting “FBI. Open the door.” The agent shouted seconds later: “FBI. Warrant.”
A second-floor light turned on, and moments later, Stone appeared in the front entryway. He confirmed who he was to law enforcement.
It wasn’t immediately clear that Stone had been arrested, as the FBI moved CNN’s camera far back down the street once they went in
Stone’s attorney, Grant Smith, first learned the FBI had raided Stone’s home when CNN called Smith early Friday to say it appeared his client had been arrested and to ask for comment.
Stone’s wife, Nydia, called Smith almost immediately after CNN had called to alert him of the arrest.
CNN’s David Shortell, Gilbert De La Rosa, Katelyn Polantz, Sara Murray, Laura Robinson, Em Steck and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.