Roger Stone, it seems, wants people to be talking about CNN, instead of his alleged crimes and his connections to President Trump.
Stone continues to promote a completely bogus narrative about the circumstances of his arrest. He is pushing a baseless claim about it in U.S. district court. Meanwhile, his wife is raising money off an easily disproven conspiracy theory about CNN’s coverage.
The Stones are getting help from members of the pro-Trump media, like Tucker Carlson of Fox News, who are ignoring what they learned in journalism 101. Even the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, has fueled the fire.
So here’s what is actually true.
Stone is a notorious media manipulator. In the months leading up to his January 25 arrest, he knew he was in Robert Mueller’s sights. He campaigned against the special counsel probe, sowed doubt about its legitimacy, blamed the “deep state,” attacked the media, and raised money for his legal defense fund.
So he should not have been surprised when FBI agents showed up at his home.
CNN wasn’t surprised. A producer and photojournalist staked out Stone’s home about an hour before the raid. They were following their “reporter’s instinct,” producer David Shortell said, that Stone might be taken into custody.
“The whole Russia team thought maybe something was happening,” Shortell said shortly after the raid. “There was some unusual grand jury activity in Washington, D.C. yesterday.” There were also some “other signs” of movement in the Stone case.
The result was a big exclusive for CNN: Pre-dawn video of the FBI arriving at Stone’s home.
The birth of a baseless theory
Later in the day, CNN’s Jeremy Herb wrote that the video “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.”
Within minutes of the raid, a conspiracy theory began to take shape on social media. Some of Stone’s defenders claimed, without evidence, that Mueller’s office tipped off CNN to the timing of the raid.
Trump fed this idea by tweeting, “Who alerted CNN to be there?”
Trump, of course, has spent years degrading CNN and other news outlets. He encourages conspiratorial thinking among his supporters.
Within hours this idea – CNN and Mueller in cahoots! – became gospel in far-right-wing circles. All of the evidence to the contrary was discounted. For example, journalists from numerous news outlets have all said that Mueller’s team is frustratingly leak-free. And the CNN crew outside Stone’s home was moved away when the FBI rolled up. That’s why the video only has glimpses of Stone being taken into custody.
Stakeouts are a common practice in the news business. CNN, in fact, had another crew out on a stakeout in another state that same morning. The crew was at the home of another player in the Mueller probe, on the suspicion that the person could be arrested, but that hunch didn’t pan out.
Despite all this, Stone’s allies like Carlson – who used to work at CNN – assumed they knew what happened at Stone’s home. “Mueller wanted the raid on Roger Stone’s home caught on tape and publicly aired, as a warning to other disobedient witnesses about what could happen if you step out of line,” Carlson claimed. “And CNN was happy to oblige.”
Aided by these baseless allegations, Stone has sought to portray himself as a victim and raise money for his legal defense.
He has also posted lies about CNN on his Instagram page, including a meme that claimed CNN legal analyst Josh Campbell was on the scene of the raid.
Campbell, who used to be a special assistant to former FBI Director James Comey, was actually asleep at his home in Los Angeles. A producer called, woke him up and asked him to hurry into the L.A. bureau for live coverage.
But the meme posted by Stone suggested a conspiracy was afoot. He called Campbell’s (made-up) presence “the greatest coincidence since the Reichstag Fire!”
To be clear, Campbell was on live TV from L.A. the morning of the raid.
That hasn’t stopped Stone’s wife Nydia from repeating the claim about Campbell in a fund-raising letter.
The problem with Stone’s timeline
Raising money may be at the heart of these smears against CNN. But Stone also seems determined to divert attention away from the fact that he’s been charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress.
In other words, Stone appears to be taking a page out of his own playbook: deny everything and launch a counterattack against your enemies. These are tactics detailed in his book “Stone’s Rules,” which followed a hit documentary on Netflix, “Get Me Roger Stone.”
Stone is getting a lot of help, including from Trump’s allies in the executive and legislative branches.
Whitaker did nothing to dash the “CNN was tipped off” conspiracy theory when GOP lawmaker Doug Collins brought it up at a hearing last week.
“It was deeply concerning to me as to how CNN found out” about the raid, Whitaker said.
And Stone is trying to invoke this issue in his court case. On Wednesday he filed a claim that suggested the special counsel improperly tipped off the media by giving out a sealed indictment.
But the timeline drawn out in the court document once again misrepresents what occurred.
Wednesday’s court filing says Stone was arrested at 6:06 a.m. At 6:11, CNN correspondent Sara Murray – informed of the raid by Shortell – called Stone’s lawyer “and informed him that Mr. Stone had been arrested.”
“At 6:22 a.m.,” the filing says, “the same reporter sent counsel a text message attaching a draft copy of the still sealed indictment.”
Scandalous? Not at all. Mueller’s office sent out a press release and emailed a link to the indictment to a mailing list full of reporters at 6:16. That’s how most news outlets found out about the arrest and indictment.
This is common practice. The Justice Department routinely releases versions of indictments and other cases before they are stamped by a court clerk and made public through the court’s public records site online.
So Murray texted Stone’s lawyer with a link to the press release and the indictment while asking for comment – another common practice. “Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,” she wrote.
To be clear, the judge’s order to seal Stone’s arrest warrant and indictment states that the document was only required to be sealed “until the defendant named in the indictment is in custody, at which time the foregoing materials shall be unsealed.” That would appear to mean Mueller’s office was free to share the file anytime after 6:06 a.m. But Stone’s lawyers dispute this interpretation.
“What a time to be alive.”
CNN began its live coverage of Stone’s arrest at 6:22 a.m. The reporters and anchors scrambled to read the indictment like everyone else. “Our viewers are going to have to bear with us as we read this in realtime,” “New Day” anchor John Berman said.
But Stone’s camp continues to claim that CNN was all-knowing, thanks to some sort of tip.
Ironically, Stone has also used the video – showing heavily armed FBI agents on his property – in his public relations campaign.
Erik Wemple of the Washington Post wrote on Tuesday, “Where would Stone and Trump and Carlson be if they didn’t have the CNN footage to advance their arguments about FBI overreach?”
As for the smears, CNN reporters and analysts have been taking it in stride.
“What a time to be alive,” Campbell tweeted on Tuesday, linking to a story about the “bizarre conspiracy theory that I was in two places on separate coasts at the same time.”
Campbell and Shortell were amused that anyone could have mixed them up. Last week, when they were together in the D.C. bureau, they posed for a photo and pointed at each other, laughing about the ludicrousness of it all.