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Misquoting FactCheck.org

To set the record straight, FactCheck.org did not call the allegation that longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone had advance notice about hacked Democratic emails “false,” as Stone claimed in a recent op-ed. We said it is “not an established fact.”

There’s a difference.

In a piece written for InfoWars, Stone said he is anxious to testify before the House intelligence committee on Sept. 26 to refute “allegations in public session that I had advance notice of either the hacking of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails or advanced knowledge of the content of material published by WikiLeaks that proved embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”

Stone then cited us to back that up. “As Factcheck.org, a non-partisan news organization funded by the Annenberg Foundation concluded on March 28th, 2017 both assertions are false,” Stone wrote.

The first assertion, that Stone had advance knowledge of the hacking of Podesta’s emails, is based on an Aug. 21, 2016, tweet: “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

We don’t know what Roger Stone knew or didn’t know about the hacked Democratic National Committee emails before they were publicly released by WikiLeaks. But we concluded that Stone’s Aug. 21, 2016, tweet was not, in and of itself, proof that Stone had been tipped off about the hacked emails.

So far, that’s all that has been made public to back up the speculation that Stone knew about Podesta’s hacked emails.

Stone, who noted that he is testifying before the House committee voluntarily and that he has neither requested nor received immunity, is referring to our story on March 28,”Misrepresenting Stone’s Prescience.” In that article, we challenged one aspect of a circumstantial case that Rep. Adam Schiff laid out to question whether Trump’s campaign associates may have colluded with the Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Is it a coincidence that Roger Stone predicted that John Podesta would be a victim of a Russian hack and have his private emails published, and did so even before Mr. Podesta himself was fully aware that his private emails would be exposed?” Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said in his opening statement at a March 20 hearing.

But as we wrote, “There is nothing in the public record so far that proves Stone, a political operative and longtime Trump associate, predicted the Podesta email hack.”

Schiff’s speculation assumes that Stone’s tweet was predicting the release of the Podesta emails two months later by WikiLeaks. But Stone has denied the tweet had anything to do with Podesta’s emails. Rather, Stone said, his tweet referred to Podesta’s business dealings with Russia, and the expectation that that would become a news story. The tweet makes no direct reference to Podesta’s email.

We didn’t call Schiff’s assertion “false” though. Here’s what we wrote:

FactCheck.org, March 28: Schiff is free to question what Stone meant by the tweet. But in the intelligence hearing, Schiff stated as a matter of fact that Stone predicted the release of Podesta’s hacked emails, and questioned whether Stone’s prediction was a coincidence or evidence of collusion with Russia. More information may emerge as a result of FBI and congressional investigations, but based on what is currently in the public domain, it’s not an established fact that Stone knew in advance that Podesta’s emails were hacked and would be published in October.

No new evidence has emerged since then.

We should note that Hillary Clinton engaged in similar speculation this week during an appearance on the “Today Show” on NBC. When talking about possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, Clinton referred to Stone’s tweet and asked, “How would [Stone] have known that?” (Her statement appears at the 6:50 mark of the first video.)

Hillary Clinton, “Today Show,” Sept. 13: And we know that there was a lot of interesting coincidences, if you will, between what people associated with Trump were saying at the time and what later came to pass. I mean, you had a Trump associate saying in August, “Oh, John Podesta is going to end up in the barrel.” Well, how would he have known that? The Russians hacked those emails. They stole them.

What we wrote about Schiff’s comment applies to Clinton’s comments as well. There is no evidence in the public record so far that shows that Stone was referring to the hacked Podesta emails.

But we also did not conclude that such speculation is “false.” That goes too far.

Stone also goes too far when he claims that we deemed “false” the assertion that he had “advanced knowledge of the content of material published by WikiLeaks that proved embarrassing to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.”

The issue here is a series of direct Twitter messages that Stone privately exchanged with Guccifer 2.0 — who took credit for the DNC hack — and boasts by Stone in August 2016 that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published the emails. Both Guccifer 2.0 and Assange were deemed to have acted as proxies for Russian intelligence to release emails damaging to the Clinton campaign, according to a declassified intelligence community assessment released on Jan. 6.

Stone said that he published all of the messages between himself and Guccifer 2.0. We cannot independently verify that, but none of the publicly released messages proves Stone had advanced knowledge of the content of hacked emails.

Stone said in a speech on Aug. 8 that he had “communicated with Assange” and that he believed “the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

Stone later clarified that he never spoke directly with Assange, but that the two have a mutual journalist friend who told him in August that Assange “has the mother lode on Hillary [Clinton]” and that those emails would be released in October. But Stone said the intermediary was no more specific than that. Stone said he was merely speculating that the emails would have something to do with the Clinton Foundation.

You can read more about Stone’s interactions with Guccifer 2.0 and Assange in our story “Misrepresenting Stone’s Prescience.”

We don’t know if Stone had further or more substantive communications with either Guccifer 2.0 or Assange. That is likely part of the congressional committee’s ongoing investigation. But even though there remains no concrete evidence in the public record that proves Stone had advance notice about the hacked emails, we can’t say those allegations are false either. We’ll update this post if more evidence emerges.

We should note that in a nearly identical op-ed published by USA Today a day earlier, Stone more accurately states: “FactCheck.org, a non-partisan news organization, reported that those allegations are not established by the record.” USA Today Deputy Editorial Page Editor David Mastio told us, “We asked Stone to write the piece we published to go with our editorial making the opposite point as is our practice every day. Just as with every opposing view and column we run, Stone’s submission was edited for style and accuracy in a collaborative process.” We don’t know whether the wording was changed in the editorial process, but we wanted to set the record straight that the wording in the InfoWars op-ed is inaccurate on this point.

Update, Jan. 28, 2019: The special counsel’s office arrested Stone on Jan. 25 and indicted him on seven counts, including making false statements, witness tampering and obstruction. The indictment says Stone lied to the House intelligence committee about, among other things, “his possession of documents pertinent to” the committee’s investigation and “his communications with the Trump Campaign” about WikiLeaks’ possession of material that could be damaging to Clinton and her campaign.

“On multiple occasions, STONE told senior Trump Campaign officials about materials possessed by Organization 1 and the timing of future releases,” according to the indictment, which refers to WikiLeaks as “Organization 1.”

For more information, see our ongoing, detailed timeline of the Russia investigation.