shadow

He’s no saint – but Roger Stone insists he’s innocent of Russia collusion

Why We Wrote This

Roger Stone has built a career by operating in the shadows. As the Mueller investigation shifts focus to the shroud of secrecy surrounding this American Machiavelli, Mr. Stone shares his side of the story with our reporter.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
Political consultant Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, spoke to reporters in 2017 after appearing before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

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In recent months, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone has come under an investigative microscope by federal agents and prosecutors working on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Many of Mr. Stone’s current and former associates have been questioned about him, and some have been called to testify before a grand jury in Washington. It remains unclear what evidence – if any – the special counsel possesses linking the notorious GOP campaign operative to the Trump-Russia matter. But the investigation gained a major boost last month when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort entered a plea agreement with Mr. Mueller. One theory from the political left has Mr. Manafort and Stone, who were once business partners, serving as a kind of dream team of collusion. Manafort, through his prior work in Ukraine, had trusted contacts in Russia. Stone’s expertise would have been useful in identifying which of the Democratic documents allegedly hacked by the Russians were most damaging, and helping time their release to maximize the political harm to Hillary Clinton. Stone dismisses the suggestion. “It is a fairy tale,” he says, in a wide-ranging, two-hour interview at his Florida home. “It is a left-wing conspiracy theory.”

Roger Stone has spent a lifetime cultivating a reputation as a political street fighter of the first order – a no-holds-barred conservative campaign operative fluent in the dark arts of electoral persuasion and deception.

He is an American Machiavelli with a tattoo of Richard Nixon’s smiling face positioned at the center of his back, a brand he wears as a badge of honor.

“Politics isn’t bean bag. This is a rough-and-tumble game,” Mr. Stone told the Monitor during a wide-ranging, two-hour interview at his home here. “But I’ve never done anything that is outside the norm of what political operatives do.” 

Nonetheless, among Democrats, Stone is Lucifer incarnate, a dirty trickster who exploits divisions and stokes fear to gain political advantage for conservative candidates.

In perhaps his most ambitious project, Stone began working as far back as 1988 to convince a flashy, combative New York City real estate developer and eventual reality TV star to run for president of the United States. The rest, as they say, is history.

Except the story isn’t quite over.

Now, Stone, who spent much of his life as a political hit man, finds himself in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert Mueller.

The special counsel’s office is investigating whether Stone might be the elusive smoking gun that proves collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians who allegedly hacked emails and other documents from the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and released them publicly via WikiLeaks.  

The disclosures in the final months of the presidential election were more than just embarrassing; they were devastating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and helped propel Donald Trump into the White House.

It certainly sounds like the kind of work Roger Stone might embrace. And some of Stone’s own actions and statements in the run-up to the 2016 election suggest he might have had inside information. But that doesn’t make it true, Stone says.

“There is no proof that would stand up in court, and there is no witness who can provide such proof, because it simply doesn’t exist,” he says, seated in a home library jammed with books about Nixon and politics, and adorned with a large blue and yellow campaign poster: “Win with Nixon.”

“I am not sure how much more categorical I can be.”

Target: Stone

In recent months, Stone has come under an investigative microscope by federal agents and prosecutors working on Mr. Mueller’s team. Many of Stone’s current and former associates have been questioned about him, and some have been called to testify before a grand jury in Washington.

It remains unclear what evidence – if any – the special counsel possesses linking Stone to the Trump-Russia matter. The special counsel’s office does not comment on such things. But the investigation gained a major boost last month when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort entered a plea agreement with Mueller that requires his full cooperation with prosecutors and agents – including those investigating Stone.

Mr. Manafort was convicted of eight counts of bank fraud and tax evasion related to money he received from 2010 to 2014 as a political consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He was facing additional charges in a second trial and decided instead to plead guilty to all charges and cooperate.

At age 69, Manafort might spend the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors could recommend a lighter sentence, but that would depend on the value of Manafort’s cooperation. That dynamic creates a strong incentive for Manafort to provide substantial assistance to prosecutors.

Andrew Harnik/AP
Members of the defense team for Paul Manafort depart federal court following a hearing in the criminal case against the former Trump campaign chairman in Alexandria, Va., Oct. 19, 2018.

If Stone is worried, he betrays no hint of it. “He knows nothing whatsoever of my activities,” Stone says of Manafort.

One theory from the political left has Manafort and Stone serving as a kind of dream team of collusion. Manafort, through his prior work in Ukraine, had trusted contacts in Russia, and Stone’s expertise would have been useful in identifying which of the stolen DNC documents were most politically damaging, and helping set the sequence and timing of their public release to maximize the political damage to Mrs. Clinton.

Guccifer 2.0

In July, 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted by Mueller for allegedly hacking the DNC’s computer network, extracting emails and other documents, and arranging for the stolen information to be released publicly on WikiLeaks.

Stone is not identified by name, but he acknowledges that his activities are portrayed in paragraph 44 of the indictment. 

“On August 15, 2016, the Conspirators [Russian intelligence officers] posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person [Roger Stone] who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” the indictment says.

The indictment quotes a Twitter message from Guccifer 2.0 to Stone: “thank u for writing back… do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?”

The indictment continues: “On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators [Russian intelligence officers] added: ‘please tell me if i can help u anyhow… it would be a great pleasure to me.’ ”

Guccifer 2.0 reached out to Stone again on September 9, 2016, and asked him about a campaign strategy document stolen from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and posted online. “[W]hat do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats [sic] entire presidential campaign,” the indictment quotes Guccifer 2.0 as asking.

According to the indictment, Stone responded: “Pretty standard.”

Stone says his contacts with Guccifer 2.0 were “benign,” and he questions why the special counsel’s office decided to include it in the indictment. “Read the actual content of the exchange,” Stone says. “It doesn’t point to any wrongdoing on my part.” 

Stone’s view of Guccifer 2.0 and the alleged DNC hack is substantially different than the version of events put forth by Mueller’s team. Stone does not believe Guccifer 2.0 was the creation of Russian intelligence officers and he does not believe that the DNC was actually hacked. He cites an outside study that suggests the stolen material could not have been hacked and transmitted overseas at the rate that the actual stolen documents were lifted from the DNC computer system. Instead, he says, it is more likely the material was downloaded to a device inside the DNC offices and walked out the front door.

Stone also dismisses suggestions that he and Manafort conspired to use the stolen DNC documents to help President Trump win the election. “It is a fairy tale,” he says. “It is a left-wing conspiracy theory.”

Manafort and Stone

Manafort and Stone are lifelong friends. “He was an usher at my wedding,” Stone says. “We were friends going back to college and the Young Republicans [in the 1970s].”

The two were business partners in the 1980s and ‘90s in a well-known Washington lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. But according to Stone, after the firm split up, he and Manafort lost touch for many years.

Their paths crossed once again during the Trump campaign. But it is unclear how closely they worked together.

Stone had been instrumental in convincing Trump to run, but he left the campaign in August 2015, as it was just getting started. Stone clashed with Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and decided he could be more effective supporting Trump from the outside.

Manafort was hired by the campaign on March 28, 2016. He was brought in specifically to help fend off an attempt by supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz to use “Trojan delegates” to hijack the Republican presidential nomination during the party’s national convention in Cleveland.

Manafort’s role was to outmaneuver any potential defectors and secure the nomination for Trump. He had done the same thing for Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and Bob Dole, among others.

Stone was working on the same project, but from outside the campaign. Stone’s side of the operation was to gather evidence of irregularities during the local selection of convention delegates. “We found a ton of them,” Stone says. 

But the information was never needed. Manafort shut down the delegate revolt and Trump’s nomination went forward.  

Some see the Trump delegate operation as evidence of a Stone-Manafort partnership that might have continued working on side projects, like the stolen DNC emails, through the rest of the election season.

Stone dismisses it. “I can’t speak to Manafort and Russia, although I am aware of no contacts between him and Russians,” he says. “And this idea that me and Manafort are talking every day is quaint, but not exactly true. I hear from him very little after he joins the campaign.”

Bill Clinton’s ‘son’ 

Stone says Manafort had no idea what Stone was doing during the final months of the campaign season – with one exception. “I kept telling him that Danney Williams was a real story and people would find it interesting. And he kept saying, ‘Are you out of your mind?’ ”

Mr. Williams was the subject of a short documentary produced by Stone in 2016 about the light-skinned son of an African-American prostitute in Arkansas who claims former President Bill Clinton is his father.

The film, “Banished: The Untold Story of Danney Williams,” is a classic Roger Stone political hit. It suggests Mr. Clinton once supported Mr. Williams and his mother financially, but stopped when he ran for president – and that Williams was prevented by Mrs. Clinton from having any contact with the man he says is his father.

The film was released in October 2016, roughly a month before the election. Stone says 38 million people have viewed it on various internet platforms. Political analysts saw it as an attempt to undercut African-American support for Mrs. Clinton.

Stone says he was busy with two other time-consuming projects during the closing weeks of the 2016 election. One involved trying to head off what he saw as the possible rigging of the election, via electronic voting machines that lacked a corresponding paper trail.

Stone sought to conduct exit polling that could be compared to actual vote totals in districts using those machines. He says all he wanted to do was verify election results at the precinct level. But most of those districts happened to be Democratic, and Stone was sued for allegedly attempting to intimidate and suppress Democratic voters. The resulting litigation cost $250,000, he says.

Stone’s other major project was promoting his 2015 book, “The Clintons’ War on Women.” He calls the 464-page tome “the definitive ‘oppo’ dump” on Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton.

If you want to sell a political book on Mrs. Clinton, you need to do two things. First, you must be provocative. Second, it helps to have inside information – or to at least give potential book buyers the impression that you have inside information.

The combination of these two factors may go a long way to explain why it now looks to some observers like Stone was a Trump-Russia insider.

The Florida Speech 

During that same period, Stone was also actively following a hot story line in Republican circles: what happened to the 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails that had been deleted or otherwise lost prior to an FBI investigation into her use of a private email system while serving as secretary of State.

In an Aug. 8, 2016 speech to a Republican group in Broward County, Fla., Stone was asked what he thought might be a possible “October surprise” after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had hinted about the future release of Clinton and DNC emails.

Stone replied: “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation.”

He added: “But there is no telling what the October surprise might be.”

Stone’s suggestion of communication with Mr. Assange raised questions about possible collusion on the stolen DNC emails. Stone later backtracked, saying he had not communicated directly with Assange, but instead had done so through an intermediary.

“It is through Credico,” he says, referring to Randy Credico, a comedian and left-wing radio talk show host in New York City, who was a supporter of Assange, and who had hosted Stone on his show.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
New York radio host Randy Credico speaks to members of the media in Washington, on Sept. 7, 2018, after he appeared before the grand jury in the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Credico is an associate of Roger Stone, who was an adviser to President Trump.

Stone says he initially thought Mr. Credico had been in direct contact with Assange. He says it now appears that Credico’s contacts with Assange were through a WikiLeaks lawyer who is a friend of Credico’s.

“I hate to be in a position of defending Credico,” Stone said. “All he said consistently was that [WikiLeaks] had this information, that it would be devastating, and that it would change the race.”  

Reached by the Monitor, Credico denies that he was an intermediary for Stone. “He had me as the fall guy. He invented himself into the story, or he got something from somebody else. I don’t know.”

There is one aspect of Stone’s Aug. 8 comment that is frequently overlooked – the prediction that the next batch of WikiLeaks documents would relate to the Clinton Foundation. That turned out to be wrong. None of the WikiLeaks documents released prior to the election were tied to the Clinton Foundation.

Stone says he got bad information from a source at Fox News. 

But the glaringly false prediction suggests that perhaps Stone wasn’t as well-connected as he implied in his speech. 

What if Stone was just guessing? What if he was trying to appear more plugged in than he really was for the sake of selling a few more books?

 “If you go back and look at the substance of my tweets, as Assange himself has said, I never wrote or said or tweeted anything that WikiLeaks hadn’t already said themselves,” Stone says.

“It really is pretty simple,” he explains. “I set a Google News alert for Julian Assange. I read every interview he gave. He gave a lot of interviews, many times in obscure publications. And I followed the WikiLeaks Twitter feed.” 

“If you look at the substance of my tweets, they are very vague – [using terms like] ‘bombshell,’ ‘devastating,’ ‘will roil the race,’ ‘it’s coming,’ ” Stone says. 

“So, yeah, I am punking, and bluffing, and posturing,” he says. “That is called politics. That is how it works.”

This is politics

Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign aide who regards Stone as a mentor, agrees that Stone often works hard to appear more connected to certain controversies than he really is. 

“Roger was doing what Roger does – bravado. It is part of Roger’s shtick, trying to say he was part of the [stolen] email stuff,” Mr. Nunberg says. “He had no connection.”

Michael Caputo, another longtime Stone loyalist and Trump campaign aide, says he’s seen no evidence Stone colluded with Russians. He says it is Stone’s reputation as a political pugilist that appears to have drawn Mueller’s spotlight.

“Roger Stone gaslights people for a living. He is a provocateur. That’s what he does,” Mr. Caputo says. “He jams up Democrats, tries to freak them out, and he does it all the time. He is very successful at it.” But that doesn’t make Stone a co-conspirator, he says.

“I think Roger Stone is the last gasp of the Russia collusion narrative,” Caputo says. “The last gasp.”

The Podesta tweet

A few weeks after Stone’s speech to Broward Republicans, Manafort was forced out as chairman of the Trump campaign. The action came amid media reports about alleged shady dealings involving Manafort’s work years earlier as a political consultant in Ukraine.

Two days later, on Aug. 21, 2016, Stone sent a message on Twitter: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s [sic] time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.”

Many of Stone’s critics view his tweet as evidence that he had inside information that whoever hacked the DNC would soon release emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Indeed, Mr. Podesta’s personal emails were eventually released by WikiLeaks in October. And that, they say, may be evidence of collusion with the Russians.

But Stone says his tweet was meant to point out the hypocrisy of Democrats who were criticizing Manafort’s political consulting in Ukraine, but staying silent about the business dealings in Russia of John and his brother, Tony Podesta. Those dealings would soon come to light, Stone believed, and the Podesta brothers would soon be facing the same scrutiny as Manafort.

Stone insists that his tweet was referring to both Podestas. But he says his often-quoted tweet has frequently been edited by others – including in a House Intelligence Committee report – in a way that makes it look like he had inside information that John Podesta’s emails were about to be released. 

“It is not a reference to his emails being acquired and published. I [had] no advance knowledge of that,” Stone says.

Stone is one of more than a dozen named defendants in a civil lawsuit filed by the DNC.  The suit quotes several of Stone’s predictive statements and tweets as evidence of his involvement in the alleged Trump-Russia conspiracy.

Matt Rourke/AP
Campaign chair John Podesta on board Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign plane en route to North Carolina's Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Sept. 27, 2016.

In mid-September 2016, Stone told a Boston radio station that WikiLeaks would “drop a payload of new documents on Hillary on a weekly basis fairly soon.”

On Oct. 2, 2016, Stone tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks.”

The following day, Stone tweeted: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon.”

Four days later, WikiLeaks released 2,000 of John Podesta’s stolen emails. New batches of Podesta emails were released steadily through the November election, the DNC lawsuit notes, “just as Stone had predicted.”

A Russian offering dirt 

Another chapter of the Stone saga emerged earlier this year, when details were revealed about a Russian national who offered to provide Stone damaging information on Mrs. Clinton in exchange for $2 million.

The meeting took place in May 2016, at a café in Sunny Isles, a neighborhood north of Miami known locally as “Little Moscow.” The Russian, who identified himself as Henry Greenberg, showed up in a Trump T-shirt and a red Make America Great Again hat.

“He says, ‘I have access to this devastating information on Hillary, and I think it could change the whole campaign.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’d have to see it to see if it’s real.’ He said: ‘That’s going to cost you $2 million,’ ” Stone says. “I just laughed at him.”

Stone told Greenberg that he didn’t understand anything about Trump. “[Trump] won’t even pay for polling, let alone opposition research,” he says he told Greenberg.  

“So, I really can’t help you. I have no interest.” The meeting ended.

Stone says he forgot about the meeting until he was reminded of it by Caputo, who was preparing for an interview with prosecutors about the Trump-Russia affair.

It was Caputo who had asked Stone to meet with Greenberg. After the meeting, Caputo sent a text message to Stone, asking how it went. Stone replied that it was a waste of time. Caputo then asked, how crazy was the Russian?

Stone replied: “Very crazy.”

When Caputo met with prosecutors, he was shown a copy of that text message, and asked about the “Russian.”

Caputo said he told them he had assumed Greenberg was an American of Russian descent – but that the prosecutor became visibly upset and insisted that Greenberg was not a US citizen. Caputo says he thought it was odd that the prosecutor would know so much about Greenberg.

Later, Caputo hired two investigators, one in the US and one in Russia. They discovered that Henry Greenberg had a criminal record in Russia and in the US. More important, he had worked as an FBI informant for a number of years, according to federal court documents. Despite his criminal convictions he’d been granted 14 visa waivers by the FBI to enter the US, Caputo says.

Although Stone says he had forgotten about the encounter with Greenberg, he now sees the meeting and the offer of dirt on Mrs. Clinton in a different light. “I think it is an attempt to plant faux evidence of Russian collusion,” Stone says.

At least two other persons associated with the Trump election effort were approached by individuals believed to be working in an undercover capacity for US officials: Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

Stone’s meeting with Greenberg happened in May 2016 – roughly two months before the FBI says it started its Trump-Russia investigation. 

“It is my view that Henry Greenberg contacted me in order to get to the Trump campaign and to implicate us in some kind of collusion activity,” Caputo says. “I believe the FBI put him up to this.”

Caputo has reported the Greenberg incident to the inspector general at the Department of Justice. He has received no reply.

Banned by Twitter    

Although Stone functioned for much of his career as a lobbyist and political consultant near the center of American political power, these days his efforts are largely directed away from the political establishment.

He has been banned for life from Twitter for unleashing a series of offensive comments about various CNN personalities, some of which cannot be reprinted in a family publication.

Stone’s main focus now seems to be writing politically provocative books and updating content to his websites, The Stone Zone and Stone Cold Truth. And he provides regular political commentary on InfoWars, the alt-right website run by controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Stone and his lawyers are also gearing up for a potential legal showdown with the special counsel’s office.

In June, Stone’s grandson, Nick Stevens, set up a GoFundMe site to help raise money for his grandfather’s legal expenses. So far, the site has raised $3,353 of a $100,000 goal. In addition, a Roger Stone Legal Defense Fund has been set up online to accept donations.

Stone says his legal expenses might reach $2 million, and that a fight in court could leave him and his family bankrupt.

He is already under some financial strain. Stone is subject to a $1.48 million federal tax lien related to the tax years 2006 to 2011. He says he is currently under a negotiated payment plan and has never missed a payment.

As for allegations of Trump-Russia collusion, Stone says he believes the charges were a diversionary tactic by Democrats and the Clinton campaign to draw attention away from the damning content of the DNC emails and to transfer blame instead to the Russians ... and to Trump.

The greatest dirty trick of all time 

It is a tactic that could have come right out of Stone’s own playbook for political warfare. But the Democrats, he charges, were willing to go much further. Stone says that members of the Obama administration used their government power to conduct surveillance of the Trump campaign. 

House Republicans are investigating allegations that the FBI used shoddy information to obtain a warrant to spy on Mr. Page, a former Trump campaign aide, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Stone and his lawyers believe that he, too, was subject to some kind of surveillance effort beginning as early as May 2016.

“If I am a dirty trickster, that means that I can recognize one when I see it,” Stone told the Monitor. “And the use of the surveillance authority to spy on Trump would have to go down as the greatest dirty trick of all time.”   

Stone is a Nixon acolyte. He was the youngest member of the White House staff caught up in the Watergate scandal that drove his hero and mentor from office in disgrace.

Nixon ultimately went down for two reasons, Stone says. “His people get caught infiltrating the DNC, and planting bugs that never really work.”

He then argues: “What have the Obama people done? They are using the power and authority of the state to justify legally the surveillance of Trump’s campaign.”

“That is an abuse of power that makes Watergate look like – pardon me – a fourth-rate burglary.”

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