Google is about to become embroiled in one of the most high-profile criminal cases in recent American history. The Department of Justice has demanded the tech giant hand over data to help it piece together its investigation of longtime Donald Trump advisor and ally Roger Stone, according to a June 5 order seen by Forbes.
The federal government is seeking to put together a timeline of Stone’s public statements about his apparent contact with WikiLeaks regarding the infamous 2016 leaks of Democratic party communications. Investigators believe YouTube upload dates and times of eight specific videos will help. YouTube is owned by Google.
The videos of interest to the DOJ include footage of Stone’s appearances at Republican meetups and on right-wing shows like InfoWars, as well as public comments from Wikileaks chief Julian Assange. The videos were uploaded by various YouTube accounts, not by Stone or Wikileaks.
What the government wants from Google
In an indictment filed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in January 2019, it was alleged that Stone lied to the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2017 about the nature of his communications with WikiLeaks regarding emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager John Podesta. Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges of making false statements, obstruction of the government’s investigation and tampering with a witness.
To get their timeline straight, Stone’s accusers want Google to hand over YouTube video upload dates of Stone’s claims related to his contact with Assange’s organization. The videos include footage of Stone’s discussion of WikiLeaks on Alex Jones’ InfoWars and on the former Breitbart commentator and NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch’s show. Google has also been ordered to provide upload information of a YouTube video of a Stone speech in Broward County, Florida, in which he admits to speaking with Assange. He later claimed that he hadn’t spoken to Assange directly but only through an intermediary, as per the January indictment.
The government, in its application for the Google order, doesn’t specify why it’s seeking upload dates rather than simply relying on the dates the videos were made available to the public. The DOJ declined to comment beyond what was in court documents. It’s likely that investigators want to get a sense of how far in advance Stone’s comments were made ahead of their publication on YouTube.
Prosecutors also want the upload date for a videotaped statement that the head of “Organization ”—Julian Assange—made on or about June 12, 2016. In the video, Assange claimed WikiLeaks had “emails relating to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication.”
A Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Forbes: “We have a well-established process for managing requests for user data. We only respond to valid legal requests, and don't comment on specific cases.”
But in June 2016 an attorney for the government spoke with Google; the tech giant said it would provide the requested upload dates only if it was handed an official order, according to the prosecutors’ request for Google info.
Stone’s links to WikiLeaks
Stone’s lawyers declined to comment. He has repeatedly denied having any foreknowledge of the Wikileaks files or direct contact with Assange. Wikileaks previously said neither Assange nor the organization had been in contact with Stone. Stone, though, has admitted to brief contact with WikiLeaks over Twitter direct messages and a hacker Guccifer 2.0, who has since been accused of being a Russian military intelligence agent.
There is other evidence against Stone other than his public comments, according to Mueller’s January indictment. It’s alleged that around June or July 2016, the former Republican party operative told Trump campaign officials that WikiLeaks was ready to release stolen data related to the DNC and Podesta. Julian Assange’s leaking organization published the first batch of DNC documents on July 22. It wasn’t until October that the Podesta emails were leaked. The government alleged that Stone continued to communicate with the Trump campaign team about WikiLeaks and its future releases during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
Stone’s tweets from 2016 regarding WikiLeaks have also drawn much attention. In August 2016, he took to Twitter to say: “Trust me, it will soon [be] the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” he tweeted. In October, a matter of days ahead of the Podesta leaks, Stone tweeted: “Payload coming. #Lockthemup.” The Atlantic also reported the Stone had made contact with WikiLeaks over Twitter direct messages.
I'm more likely to believe Wikileaks. I think the organization would have a pretty good handle on who it had contact with, even through intermediaries.
LONDON — A British court on Friday set February 2020 as the date for the full extradition hearing on whether Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, should be sent to the United States to face a slew of charges, including several under the Espionage Act.
Mr. Assange, 47, appeared by video link from Belmarsh Prison on the outskirts of London for his first hearing since the United States formally requested his extradition. He had skipped a previous hearing because, his lawyer said, he was too ill to appear. Some experts, including a United Nations official, said he had exhibited signs of a deteriorating physical and mental condition.
Mr. Assange’s hearing came days after Britain’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, signed the extradition request from the United States and expressed his support for Mr. Assange’s detention.
“He’s rightly behind bars,” Mr. Javid told BBC’s Radio 4.
Protesters holding signs that read “Hands off Assange” outside Westminster Magistrates Court in London on Friday denounced Mr. Javid’s decision and demanded Mr. Assange’s release. If the court rules in the United States’ favor, the extradition process is expected to be a long and complicated one.
Prosecutors from the United States had initially charged Mr. Assange with a single count of computer hacking, and said he had conspired with the former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer network, a crime punishable by up to five years in an American prison.
But in May, prosecutors added 17 charges to the list, including violating the Espionage Act, a move that has raised profound First Amendment issues. Most of the new charges were related to obtaining the secret document archives as opposed to publishing them, Justice Department officials said. But some worry it could set a precedent to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism.
The charges stem from Mr. Assange’s purported involvement in a 2010 leak of hundreds of thousands of classified documents, mostly related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that proved damaging and embarrassing for the United States and its allies.
Journalists and supporters of Mr. Assange gathered on Friday outside a London court, where he appeared at a hearing by video link.
In a brief court appearance on Friday, Mr. Assange, wearing glasses and a gray T-shirt, denied cracking a Pentagon network password as prosecutors read out the accusations against him, according to Reuters.
“It is important that people aren’t fooled into believing that WikiLeaks is anything but a publisher,” Mr. Assange told the court. “The U.S. government has tried to mislead the press.”
Mr. Assange is serving a 50-week sentence for jumping bail in Britain and is still appealing that sentence. He was removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy in London in April and promptly arrested, seven years after first seeking refuge there to avoid extradition in a Swedish investigation into allegations made in 2010 by a woman who said Mr. Assange had sexually assaulted her.
Last month, Sweden announced it would be reopening the investigation into allegations of rape. A Swedish court has ruled that Mr. Assange should not be extradited to Sweden for the investigation, though he would still be questioned in the case while he is imprisoned in Britain.
That decision removed the potential for dueling extradition requests from the United States and Sweden, at least for now.
Outside the courtroom on Friday, Jennifer Robinson, a lawyer for Mr. Assange, said her client was being held in the hospital’s health care ward and “continues to suffer the permanent and difficult adverse health impacts” of his long-term stay in the Ecuadorean Embassy, and now in prison.
“He’s under a huge amount of pressure, and we are very concerned about him,” she told reporters.
Last month, a United Nations expert on torture said that an examination of Mr. Assange showed an alarming deterioration in his mental and physical state, and that he was suffering from psychological torture as a result of the cases brought by Britain, Sweden and the United States.
The United Nations special rapporteur on torture and ill treatment, Nils Melzer, said in an interview that Mr. Assange was “extremely jumpy and stressed.”