January 26, 2019


Mueller's Real Target in the Roger Stone Indictment: It was probably not Stone himself, but rather his electronic devices. (Julian Sanchez, Jan. 26, 2019, NY Times)

Mr. Stone's early-morning arrest at his Florida home unsurprisingly dominated coverage, but reports also noted that federal agents were "seen carting hard drives and other evidence from Mr. Stone's apartment in Harlem, and his recording studio in South Florida was also raided." The F.B.I., in other words, was executing search warrants, not just arrest warrants. Even the timing and manner of Mr. Stone's arrest -- at the absolute earliest moment allowed under federal rules of criminal procedure without persuading a judge to authorize an exceptional nighttime raid -- suggests a concern with preventing destruction of evidence: Otherwise it would make little sense to send a dozen agents to arrest a man in his 60s before sunrise.

The indictment itself -- which charges Mr. Stone with witness tampering, obstruction of justice and false statements to Congress -- takes little imagination to translate into a search warrant application, and also hints at what Robert Mueller might be looking for. In describing the lies it alleges Mr. Stone told a House committee, the document places great emphasis on Mr. Stone's denial that he had any written communications with two associates -- associates with whom he had, in fact, regularly exchanged emails and text messages. That's precisely the sort of behavior one might focus on in seeking to convince a recalcitrant judge that an investigative target could not be trusted to turn over documents in response to a subpoena, requiring the more intrusive step of seizing Mr. Stone's devices directly.

Of course, as the indictment also makes clear, the special counsel has already managed to get its hands on plenty of Mr. Stone's communications by other means -- but one seeming exception jumps out. In a text exchange between Mr. Stone and a "supporter involved with the Trump Campaign," Mr. Mueller pointedly quotes Mr. Stone's request to "talk on a secure line -- got WhatsApp?" There the direct quotes abruptly end, and the indictment instead paraphrases what Mr. Stone "subsequently told the supporter." Though it's not directly relevant to his alleged false statements, the special counsel is taking pains to establish that Mr. Stone made a habit of moving sensitive conversations to encrypted messaging platforms like WhatsApp -- meaning that, unlike ordinary emails, the messages could not be obtained directly from the service provider.

The clear implication is that any truly incriminating communications would have been conducted in encrypted form -- and thus could be obtained only directly from Mr. Stone's own phones and laptops. 

Posted by at January 26, 2019 5:09 PM