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Trump friend Stone pleads not guilty in Russia probe case

By ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Roger Stone, a longtime adviser and confidant of President Donald Trump, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges in the Russia investigation after a publicity-filled few days spent torching the probe as politically motivated.

The political operative and self-proclaimed dirty trickster was uncharacteristically silent during his brief appearance at the federal courthouse in Washington. He faces charges that he lied to lawmakers, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Stone made no public statements as he arrived and departed the hearing without speaking to reporters. He waved to a small crowd of supporters chanting that he did nothing wrong and holding up glowing photos of him. And he largely ignored a group of protesters yelling "Lock him up" and carrying signs reading "Dirty traitor."

Stone was arrested last week at his Florida home and appeared Tuesday in federal court amid new signals about special counsel Robert Mueller probe's endgame. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said Monday that the investigation is "close to being completed," although an exact timetable is unclear.

Mueller continues to be interested in hearing from Stone aide Andrew Miller, who is fighting a grand jury subpoena, indicating the special counsel could be pursuing additional criminal charges against Stone or others related to WikiLeaks' release of hacked material during the 2016 election.

During a brief hearing Tuesday, Stone spoke only once, rising to his feet to say, "Yes, Your Honor," as U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson asked if he would agree to the conditions of his release including restricted travel. Stone attorney Robert Buschel entered the plea on his client's behalf.

Mueller's team and lawyers with the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia are jointly prosecuting the case against Stone. They did not push for Stone to be jailed or for Robinson to impose a gag order in the case.

Stone, who is scheduled to appear again in court on Friday, is the sixth Trump aide charged in Mueller's investigation.

The indictment does not accuse Stone of coordinating with Russia or with WikiLeaks on the release of hacked Democratic emails. But it does allege that he misled lawmakers about his pursuit of those communications and interest in them. The anti-secrecy website published emails in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election that the U.S. says were stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives.

Stone, who has alleged without evidence that the FBI used "Gestapo tactics" in arresting him, has said he did nothing more than exercise his First Amendment rights to drum up interest with voters about the WikiLeaks disclosures. He has also denied discussing the issue with Trump.

"That's what I engaged in. It's called politics and they haven't criminalized it, at least not yet," Stone said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

"All I did was take publicly available information and try to hype it to get it as much attention as possible, because I had a tip, the information was politically significant and that it would come in October," he added.

Tuesday's arraignment didn't inspire the same circus-like atmosphere that surrounded his Friday court appearance in Florida, where Stone emerged from the building in a blue polo shirt, flashed a Richard Nixon victory sign, predicted his vindication and vowed that he would not "bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself."

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Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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