Roger Stone defends Trump’s presidency at House committee hearing

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption The hearing is Roger Stone’s first appearance since he was charged last month with lying to Congress

Celebrated political operative Roger Stone has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in congressional questioning.

The House Intelligence Committee called the self-described “dirty trickster” to Capitol Hill to answer questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But he walked out after just a few minutes, to loud cheers from fellow Republicans.

The hearing was Mr Stone’s first appearance since he was charged last month with lying to Congress.

The newly elected intelligence committee chairman, Adam Schiff, had asked for Mr Stone to come before his panel to answer questions.

In a statement after the hearing, Mr Schiff called Mr Stone’s refusal to testify “especially disturbing”.

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“Given the seriousness of these charges, and the questions raised about whether his own testimony is credible, I regret that he cannot co-operate,” he said.

According to court documents, in 2017 and 2018 Mr Stone told investigators that he never communicated with Wikileaks or Donald Trump Jr while the organisation released confidential material from Democratic party emails.

He was accused of lying “to preserve and protect his personal reputation and standing in the Trump political machine.”

In testimony on Monday, Mr Stone denied knowing about the strategy of releasing Democratic emails ahead of the 2016 election and denied colluding with the Russians.

Mr Stone himself is not accused of any involvement in the alleged Russian interference.

Some Democrats and independent experts are sceptical that Mr Stone and others in the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives.

Mr Stone is also battling a criminal charge brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

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Mr Mueller alleges that Mr Stone “was told” on 11 June 2016 by his former assistant, Jerome Corsi, that Wikileaks was going to release DNC material.

Mr Corsi’s attorney said last week that he would plead guilty to a single charge in the case.

That charge is related to a document that Mr Corsi was allegedly “likely told” that WikiLeaks had obtained material from WikiLeaks, as reported in the Wall Street Journal.

In his testimony to the intelligence committee on Monday, Mr Corsi’s attorney, Judd Burstein, said his client had “no idea” that Mr Stone knew about the release of the documents before they appeared online.

Mr Corsi has also been charged in the case. He has pleaded not guilty.

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But in a statement released later, Mr Stone said he and Mr Corsi “did not collude or collude with Russians or Russian agents, nor were we knowingly working with any Russians or Russian agents”.

“I served as a volunteer for Trump’s campaign for more than three months,” he said.

In an email to members of the media, a Trump campaign spokesperson said Mr Stone never broke any laws.

“It is ironic that a Democrat Congressman would accuse our campaign of colluding with the Russians, when they’ve just created two new witnesses — Jerome Corsi and myself,” he said.

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