U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone pleaded not guilty Tuesday to seven charges linked to the release of damaging hacked emails about Trump's 2016 Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the midst of the presidential campaign.
The 66-year-old Stone, arrested last week at his Florida home in a pre-dawn FBI raid, was arraigned in a federal court in Washington on five counts of lying to Congress about his role in the WikiLeaks release of the emails, and single counts of witness tampering and obstructing a congressional investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Stone has vocally asserted his innocence in recent days but said nothing as he left court.
Some onlookers outside court chanted, "Lock him up," and carried signs calling him a "dirty traitor." But supporters nearby said he did nothing wrong and held up photos of him.
Unlike most defendants in U.S. criminal cases, Stone since his arrest has made the rounds of television news shows, to belittle the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and special counsel Robert Mueller, who brought the charges against him.
On his Instagram account, Stone, a long-time self-proclaimed "dirty trickster" whose hero is Richard Nixon, the disgraced U.S. president from the early 1970s, depicted Mueller in a cartoonish-image as a butler holding a tray with a hamburger roll, but with no meat in between.
The charges against Stone do not allege that he coordinated with Russia or with WikiLeaks on the release of the hacked emails, which U.S. authorities say were stolen from Democrats by Russian agents.
Stone told ABC news on Sunday that all he "did was take publicly available information and try to hype it" to disparage Clinton in support of Trump's campaign.
The charging documents against Stone say that at one point, a senior Trump campaign official "was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information" WikiLeaks had about Clinton, but does not disclose who gave the order to find out information from Stone.
Stone's arraignment occurred a half day after Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said on Monday that he thinks Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with Trump's campaign will finish soon.
"The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as possible," Whitaker said at a news conference in Washington.
Whitaker has been the acting attorney general since November when Trump ousted Jeff Sessions from the position. Trump had repeatedly complained about Sessions removing himself from oversight of the Russia probe, and Whitaker declined to recuse himself, despite calls that he should, based on his past criticism of Mueller's investigation.
William Barr, a former U.S. attorney general, is awaiting a confirmation vote on his nomination to again take over the Justice Department. During his confirmation hearings, he pledged, without citing specifics, that he would publicly release as much of Mueller's eventual report as possible.
So far, Mueller's investigation has resulted in guilty pleas or convictions of five key figures in Trump's orbit, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn and former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Papadopoulos served a short jail term, while Cohen has been sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to surrender himself in early March. Manafort, Gates and Flynn are awaiting sentencing.