Fox News tries to find a silver lining in Roger Stone’s indictment

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, was arrested Friday morning on seven counts: one charge of obstructing Congress, five of making false statements to Congress, and one of witness tampering. Stone becomes the latest in a long line of close Trump associates to be charged with or plead guilty to crimes as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election. But if you turned on Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning news program, in the hours after news of the arrest broke, you learned that Stone’s indictment is actually good news for Trump.

“When you look at these seven counts,” co-host Steve Doocy said during the pro-Trump network’s first segment on the story, “ … once again, where is the Russia collusion?” “Right,” replied national correspondent Ed Henry. “Is it a process crime based on the investigation?” After laying out the charges during a subsequent segment, Doocy added, “But there is no Russia collusion, which is what the whole investigation was about.” Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent turned frequent Fox guest, responded that Stone had been charged with “another process crime, where the Mueller investigation … has produced the crime.” Then he speculated that the special counsel had rushed the indictment to get out ahead of bad news.

Fox & Friends’ effort to find the bright side in the indictment of someone who has advised the president for decades is absurd, if unsurprising. The co-hosts' take is in line with that of Stone's lawyer, who subsequently declared that Stone “is vindicated by the fact there was no Russian collusion.”

In fact, the core of the Stone indictment touches quite directly on Russia collusion. Mueller alleges that in the summer of 2016, Trump’s presidential campaign asked Stone to act as a proxy to contact WikiLeaks and gather information about “potential future releases” of tranches of emails that had been stolen by Russian intelligence in order to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The indictment says that he did so and that he lied to cover that up.

From the indictment:

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign. STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

Stone’s alleged obstruction and false statements to Congress and his alleged witness tampering all appear aimed at preventing investigators from assembling a full picture of how the Trump campaign responded to the Russian effort to interfere with the election.

His alleged obstruction involved falsely telling the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that he had no documents relevant to the committee’s inquiry when he in fact possessed a trove of emails and text messages related to his attempts to contact WikiLeaks through intermediaries about the stolen documents. His alleged false statements to Congress include lies about whom he had used as an intermediary to contact WikiLeaks (he had two but claimed to only have one) and whether he had discussed their conversations with the Trump campaign (he said he had not, but he had). His alleged witness tampering involved trying to keep one of his intermediaries from contradicting him by testifying about their communications.

The Trump campaign’s response to the Russian government stealing documents and releasing them through a third party in order to damage Clinton’s presidential campaign was to try to turn that to its advantage, using Stone as a conduit. When it became apparent that that fact could rebound unfavorably on Trump, Stone seems to have done everything he could to keep it from coming to light.

Even in a vacuum, that fact is remarkably damning.

But the Stone indictment does not come in a vacuum. Trump’s longtime political guru joins his legal fixer, campaign chair, national security adviser, and other key campaign aides on the list of Trump associates who have pleaded guilty to crimes brought by Mueller or been charged with crimes by the special counsel.

Fox keeps trying to find ways to explain to its audience why it’s no big deal that the president seems to surround himself with criminals. The network has constructed a seamless alternate reality in which all the news coming out of the Mueller probe is actually good news for Trump, while the real story is the purported misdeeds of the “witch hunt.”