Donald Trump's political advisor Roger Stone is just the latest of the president's associates to be indicted by Mueller as part of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States election. Could this be the final straw?
As far as relationships are concerned, Donald Trump and Roger Stone's goes way back. The current US president and the famous political consultant, who worked on Republican campaigns such as Nixon and Reagan, first met in 1979 and have worked side by side since the late 1980s.
Back then, Stone lobbied for Trump's casino business — he's said to have been the first person to suggest The Donald should run for President, in 1998. Now, Stone's indictment as part of Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election could spell danger for Trump's presidency.
Why is Stone being indicted?
Roger Stone, Trump's longest-serving political advisor, has been arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for lying to the investigators with regards to Mueller's Russia probe.
Stone is said to have lied in an effort to hide his collaboration with Wikileaks editor Julian Assange concerning a campaign to discredit Hillary Clinton in spring 2016. The political advisor denied having advanced knowledge of the hack, as well as having any contact with Russian agents.
He has now been charged with seven counts that range from making false statements to obstruction of official proceedings and witness tampering.
Mueller's team has been looking into Stone's alleged communications with WikiLeaks for a while — he is believed to have exchanged messages with Guccifer 2.0, an online persona linked to Russian military officers who tried to hack Democrat e-mails during the 2016 campaign.
Stone's indictment, available online, contains concrete examples of contradictions between the political advisor's statements and what was later found to be the truth by prosecutors.
On several occasions, including in his official testimony, Stone claimed to have never communicated with a Wikileaks intermediary in writing, saying that "he's not an email guy." Yet, the document outlines different occasions in which "Stone and Person 2 engaged in frequent written communication by email and text message."
"Stone also engaged in frequent written communication by email and text message with Person 1, who also provided Stone with information regarding Organization 1," the document read, referring to Wikileaks as Organization 1.
The document also repeatedly underlined the fact that Trump's campaign was interested in the information Wikileaks had obtained, even stating that "during the summer of 2016, Stone spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. Stone was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1."
Due to Justice Department policies, the indictment did not identify the senior campaign official and the individual who contacted Stone about Wikileaks.
Stone is now expected to appear in court on Friday afternoon. Among the seven counts of for which he is being charged, he will also respond to the claim that he attempted to intimidate witness Randy Credico, who was in contact with Assange in 2016.
Trump reacted to the news on Twitter, calling Mueller's investigation the "Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country!" and added: "NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers and Human Traffickers are treated better".
What does this mean?
Although the indictment still fails directly link Trump's 2016 campaign and Russian officials — which would ultimately represent evidence of collusion between the president and a foreign power — it does represent a turning point in the Mueller investigation.
This is arguably the biggest fish Mueller has caught in his net since the Russian investigation started: although Stone didn't hold an official position for most of the 2016 campaign, he's still Trump's longest-serving political advisor. He's the latest of Trump's associates to be involved in the investigation that some believe will lead to one place: Trump or members of his family.
Some will be wondering whether Mueller will present evidence that Trump or his family committed crimes themselves, asking the same question that has been raised since the start of the Russian investigation: is this enough to impeach Trump?
What are the legal basis — and limitations — for impeachment?
The US House of Representatives can, at any point, start a process bringing charges against a civil officer of governments for crimes alleged to have been committed. The process is not much different from a grand jury issuing an indictment.
Although most impeachments have historically concerned crimes committed while in office, civil officers can also be impeached and convicted for crimes committed prior to taking office. In the past, the House of Representatives has impeached two presidents — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — who were later acquitted by the Senate. A process against Richard Nixon was also initiated, but it was interrupted by Nixon's resignation.
The US constitution lists three reasons officials can be impeached: “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours."
Meant to be an extraordinary measure for cases when a misdemeanour is considered to be so serious that immediate action has to be taken, impeachment is just the first step in a long process to remove a president from office.
If the majority of the House of Representatives votes to impeach the president, the power then moves to the Senate — the only body with the power to try all charges of this kind. If two-thirds of Senate members vote in favour, the president is convicted.
Will Trump be impeached?
Since the Democrats won the majority of the seats at the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, talk of impeachment has increased in the media.
So far, there are three main options Democrats are faced with: Firstly, they could avoid impeachment and just wait to beat Trump in the 2020 elections. Secondly, the House could open a formal impeachment inquiry into the president without waiting for Mueller's next moves. Lastly, they could wait a little longer before they eventually begin the process for impeachment.
Should Democrats bring impeachment charges against Trump, there's one important detail they would have to take into consideration: the Senate they didn't manage to win back from the Republicans in November 2018.
In the past, cases of impeachment against US presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted by the Senate. Consequently, it might prove very difficult to actually see Trump declared guilty through this channel because for him to be finally convicted, two-thirds of the Republican-lead Senate would need to consider the current Republican president guilty.
Roger Stone appeared outside court following his indictment — watch a video of this moment in the player above.