WASHINGTON – In recent weeks, a grand jury in Washington has listened to more than a dozen hours of testimony and FBI technicians have pored over gigabytes of electronic messages as part of the special counsel's quest to solve one burning mystery: Did longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone – or any other associate of the president – have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016?
While outwardly quiet the last month, Robert Mueller's investigators have aggressively pursued leads behind the scenes about whether Stone was in communication with the group, whose disclosures of emails believed to have been hacked by Russian operatives disrupted the 2016 presidential campaign, according to people familiar with the probe.
Stone, who boasted during the race that he was in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, has said since that his past comments were exaggerated or misunderstood. Both he and WikiLeaks have adamantly denied they were in contact.
Last month, Randy Credico, a onetime Stone friend, told the grand jury that the Trump loyalist confided during the 2016 campaign that he had a secret back channel to WikiLeaks, according to a person familiar with the matter.
In interviews with the Washington Post, Stone said his only connection to the group was through Credico, a liberal comedian who had hosted Assange on his New York radio program in 2016.
The special counsel's prosecutors have also zeroed in on Stone's relationship with conservative journalist and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, examining whether he served as a conduit between Stone and Assange, according to another person familiar with their interest. Corsi appeared before Mueller's grand jury last month, and FBI agents have recently been seeking to interview Corsi's associates, according to the person.
In addition, investigators have scrutinized Stone's communications with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks, according to people familiar with the probe.
One apparent line of inquiry: whether Stone lied to Congress about his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks during the presidential race, according to the people.
According to charges filed by the special counsel in July, Russian military intelligence officers used an online persona called Guccifer 2.0 to distribute hacked Democratic emails through WikiLeaks. The Russian operatives also used Guccifer 2.0's Twitter account to send messages to Stone, who has said the exchanges were benign.