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Russia probe document shows closer Trump campaign-WikiLeaks contact

[WASHINGTON] A draft indictment from the Russia collusion probe has revealed it has evidence of possible coordination between Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and WikiLeaks, which published stolen emails damaging to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The outline court filing against Republican activist Jerome Corsi, apparently leaked by Corsi's attorneys late Tuesday, details his communications with Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone in mid-2016 on the expected releases.

The exchanges cast doubt on repeated denials by the president that his campaign coordinated with WikiLeaks over the publication of the Democratic emails - given to the anti-secrecy website after being stolen by Russian spies, according to the US government.

Three days after WikiLeaks' first release on July 22, 2016, Stone asked Corsi to contact the site's founder Julian Assange, according to the draft indictment.

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Corsi reported back a week later that he had made contact through an intermediary, and that Assange was planning two more releases that could do Mrs Clinton significant harm.

"Impact planned to be very damaging," Corsi told Stone in an email, offering advice on how the campaign should prepare itself.

Stone has already admitted to indirect contacts with Assange during 2016, as has Trump's son Donald Jr.

But the Corsi-Stone communications suggest a level of coordination and planning that had not before appeared in evidence released by the investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

EVIDENCE OF COLLUSION? 

Mr Mueller is investigating whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians who US intelligence chiefs say illegally conspired to tilt the election in Mr Trump's favour.

The draft indictment was prepared as a plea bargain between Mr Mueller's team and Corsi, in which he would admit to having lied to investigators.

But on Tuesday Corsi backed off the deal, and now possibly faces revised charges. He announced on Twitter he plans to file a criminal complaint against Mueller for prosecutorial misconduct.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump accused Mr Mueller of pressuring witnesses like Corsi and Stone into lying to achieve the goals of his investigation.

The investigators are "viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief," he said.

Corsi, a longtime conservative activist who worked for the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, was not directly attached to the Trump campaign, although he has met the president.

He was close to Stone, a veteran Republican consultant and self-avowed dirty trickster who helped Mr Trump start his run for the White House in 2015 and continued to consult for the campaign through 2016.

The draft indictment left unanswered whether Stone - who is also expecting to soon face charges from Mr Mueller - communicated the information on WikiLeaks' plans to Mr Trump or senior campaign officials.

Mr Mueller has also sought to find out whether Mr Trump was informed about discussions his campaign staff had on directly obtaining dirt on Clinton that they were told the Russians held.

In any case, Mr Mueller, whose staff have not divulged anything about the progress of their work, would still have to prove that a crime had been committed.

Getting advance notice from WikiLeaks of its plans would not in itself be an offense, legal experts say.

But if there was broader coordination, including contact with Russians, Mr Mueller could possibly make a case for a criminal conspiracy to interfere with the election and defraud the United States - the charge already filed against 13 Russians accused of meddling in the election.

"Knowing about a crime before it occurs or while it is occurring is part of what a prosecutor needs to prove to hold someone responsible for a crime," former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted.

"You can't join a conspiracy to commit a crime if you don't know about the crime being committed."

AFP