(CNN)The Nixon tattoo on his back looks more expensive than the transplanted hair on his head. His fashion sense, about which he is outspoken and fastidious, seems ripped from Gilded Age cartoons about predatory industrial fat cats.
He enjoys body-building, marijuana
and martinis, which he sometimes blames for his vulgar sallies on social media against those with whom he disagrees, usually women
(“disgusting lesbian dwarf”), minorities
(“stupid negro”) and minority women
(“Black beans and rice didn’t miss her”).
Inevitably, then, Roger Stone has known and worked for the current president of the United States for four decades, on and off serving as a lobbyist, a political strategist and a campaign adviser
before he quit or was fired in August 2015.
He and President Trump have a lot in common. They share a mentor in the late McCarthyite attorney Roy Cohn, a love of Manhattan and Florida residences and an incurable penchant for peddling conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination and the Clintons. Even though Trump once described him
as a “stone-cold loser” who “always tries taking credit for things he never did,” Stone has remained a stalwart defender of the man he calls “perhaps the greatest salesman in US history,” for whose unlikely ascent to national office he strangely doesn’t claim credit.
“Donald Trump is his own strategist, campaign manager, and tactician, and all credit for his incredible election belongs to him,” Stone writes in his book, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution,” a score-settling account against everyone who has ever upset Roger Stone, which comes across as a feverish and dubiously sourced campaign journal. “I’m just glad to have been along for the ride.”
Except that the ride is now taking the Republican operative and self-professed “dirty trickster” before the House Intelligence Committee, where he is scheduled to testify in closed session on September 26
as part of the panel’s investigation of Russian government interference in the 2016 election. Stone steadfastly denies any involvement, in yet another uncharacteristic display of modesty.
Not that Stone isn’t loving every minute of the attention. He only regrets that the hearing will be held in private. As he told CNN
, “I have again asked for immediate release of the transcripts so that there will be no confusion or misinformation about my testimony. I very much look forward to testifying and I am anxious to correct a number of the misstatements by committee members regarding my activities in 2016.”
Stone first drew the scrutiny of Congress and counterintelligence officials after he seemed to uncannily forecast the embarrassment of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
On August 21, Stone tweeted that it would soon be “Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Two months later WikiLeaks published a tranche of Podesta’s hacked Gmail correspondence. Much has since been made of Stone’s tweet, not least of all by Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee’s ranking Democrat, who extrapolated
dark collusion from that admittedly vague comment.
Stone, however, insists that his remark has been misinterpreted. He was referring, he writes in his book, to Podesta’s forthcoming comeuppance for his “and his allies savaging of Paul Manafort,” the embattled former Trump campaign manager, over “a series of leaks and false claims regarding his business activities in Ukraine.” CNN reported
this week that Manafort had been wiretapped by the FBI beginning in 2014, in part over his business activities in Ukraine, and that a source said that the surveillance of Manafort had lapsed for lack of evidence, before resuming on another matter related to the Russia investigation.
Stone claims in the book that he knew from his “own research that Podesta had been involved in money laundering for the Clinton Foundation and the Russian Mob” and the tweet was about an article addressing these unproven allegations, which Stone would later post, also in October 2016, on his personal blog, StoneColdTruth.com. “It’s important to note that none of the information regarding Podesta’s activities in this article comes from WikiLeaks in their subsequent releases,” he writes in his book. “The two are not connected.”
In a recent USA Today op-ed
, Stone went even further, blaming “the entire allegation of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign” as the “brainchild” of Podesta, “most likely to distract from the lucrative business contracts that he and his brother enjoyed with the oligarchs around Vladimir Putin.” (A spokesperson for Podesta didn’t reply to my request for comment.)
Thus, according to the unsubstantiated story peddled by this longtime GOP operative, was a longtime Democratic operative like Podesta able to enlist the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, private cyber security firms, multiple bipartisan congressional committees and a legion of investigative journalists into an elaborate false-flag conspiracy. One can’t tell if Stone here is indignant or jealous.
By his own admission — or at least one variation of it — he has “communicated” with Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who has spent the last five years in paranoia and purdah behind the walls of the Ecuadorian embassy in London. (WikiLeaks says neither it nor Assange has ever communicated with Stone.)
Stone has also copped to having had online conversations with Guccifer 2.0, the hacking entity responsible for the breach of Podesta’s emails and the Democratic National Committee’s and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s, all of which were then passed on to WikiLeaks.
The FBI, CIA and NSA have all concluded “with high confidence” that Guccifer 2.0 was actually a cutout for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, another allegation Stone disclaims. “It doesn’t seem to be the Russians that hacked the DNC,” he wrote
in an August 5, 2016, column for the right-wing website Breitbart, “but instead a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0.”
Stone has posted what he says is the full online exchange he had with the account, via Twitter direct message, on his website. He apparently wrote that he was “delighted” the account had been reinstated on Twitter after being taken offline. Guccifer 2.0 replied
, “i’m pleased to say u r a great man… and i think i gonna read ur books… please tell me if i can help u anyhow… it would be a great pleasure to meet.”
Trump, too, has continually doubted or questioned Russia’s hacking of the DNC, DCCC and Podesta’s emails, both before and after the election, despite his now having access to all those agencies’ classified findings on the matter. Assange denies receiving his digital wares from Russian intelligence at all.
Much like the embassy-bound anarchist, Stone is a notoriously unreliable and unscrupulous showman who revels in his own inflated reputation as a prime mover of historical events and a master of the dark political arts. Among his “rules” for living
is this forbidding combination of Evelyn Waugh and Sun Tzu: “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”
Which will make even an untelevised congressional hearing something of an unbound ego trip for him and the reason he wants his testimony publicized.
Yet the Stone spectacle shouldn’t distract from the fact that he has been especially squirrely about his engagement with Assange. There are also circumstantial oddities to the story about the arms-length relationship enjoyed between supporters or fellow travelers of Trumpland and WikiLeaks, about which Stone will no doubt be asked directly.
On August 8, 2016, Stone told
the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.” In fact, this proved to be quite an accurate guess, as WikiLeaks did release thousands of emails about the Clinton Foundation in October.
As the website The Smoking Gun first reported
, Stone’s gift for prophecy became acuter the closer WikiLeaks got to its Podesta data dump. On Saturday, October 1, 2016, he tweeted that “Wednesday [October 5] @HillaryClinton is done.” On Monday, October 3, at 12:24 p.m., Stone then appeared to explain why he thought this was going to be the case: “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon #LockHerUp.”
Stone was off by two days: the release of Podesta’s hacked emails began on October 7, 2016.
Stone’s and Assange’s ‘mutual friend’
On October 12, Stone told
CBS Miami that his “back-channel” to Assange was a “mutual friend” who “travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk. I had dinner with him last Monday.”
He elaborated further, on November 2, 2016, as to who this intermediary might be. Stone told
Britain’s Observer newspaper that his point of contact with Assange was an unnamed American libertarian opinion journalist with no connection to the Trump team. In “The Making of the President,” he adds that this mystery friend informed him that Assange was “in possession of ‘unspecific political dynamite’ that would ‘adversely affect the Clinton campaign.'”
That same Observer article also intriguingly cited an unnamed source “close to Trump Tower” who said that Stone once “boasted to him of meeting with Assange himself,” presumably within the span of the 2016 campaign cycle, which would have meant such a meeting can only have taken place at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Stone replied that the Observer’s source was “bull****ing” the broadsheet.
Then, on March 19, 2017, he changed his story completely. Stone told CNN
that he had never communicated with Assange “either directly or indirectly,” which would rule out having a go-between at all. This was mere days after he tweeted the following: “[N]ever denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on #CrookedHillary.” The tweet was deleted within 40 minutes of its being posted.
The ‘back channel’?
The essence of any congressional inquiry into Roger Stone’s engagement with WikiLeaks is on who exactly this mysterious “back channel” may have been, if one even exists. One of his friends, pollster Doug Schoen, told
the New Yorker in 2008 that Stone is “not so much a Republican as an actor who likes to assume poses. The show is not a by-product of his life — it is his life.” Could that mean that the man who has taken credit for the prostitution-driven downfall of New York governor Eliot Spitzer and for blocking a crucial recount of votes in Miami-Dade County in the 2000 presidential election might be embroidering or misrepresenting his engagement with a retailer of stolen political secrets?
I emailed Stone for this article, asking if he’d name his back channel to Assange.
“I had an off the record conversation,” he wrote, “and I do not burn reporters with whom I have that ground rule so I will not expose this journalist. Nothing illegal or improper in his dialog with Assange.”
Some in the left-leaning press have speculated
, based purely on circumstantial evidence, that Stone’s interlocutor is actually Nigel Farage, the goofy-grinning, demagogic former leader of Britain’s pro-Brexit UK Independence Party and a staunch transatlantic Trump supporter. (Trump has returned the admiration; just after the election, he tweeted
that “Many people would like to see @Nigel_Farage represent Great Britain as their Ambassador to the United States. He would do a great job!” This endorsement caused some displeasure in the British government, members of which sternly noted
that they already had a fine ambassador in Sir Kim Darroch.)
Stone has suggested
, although Farage has denied, that he first put the former investment banker turned Member of European Parliament in touch with Trump. But, in that same email to me, he “categorically” denied that “Farage is the person who confirmed the WikiLeaks tweet of July 21 in which WikiLeaks said they had info on Hillary. My source, a journalist, confirmed this and was borne out in October.”
Now here is why some question whether Stone is telling the truth.
On August 8, 2016 — the same day he spoke before the Broward Republicans, saying that he had communicated with Assange — Stone tweeted this: “When I had dinner with Nigel Farage who lead [sic] the Brexit campaign in the UK he told me the polls had been rigged in that fight. MSM trick.” (“MSM” refers to “mainstream media.”) Assuming the misspelled “led” here suggests that the dinner took place after the Brexit referendum, that would place it sometime after June 23 but before August 8, 2016.
We know that Farage and Stone were both in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention, which was held from July 18 to 21. Furthermore, Farage’s spokesman told
Mother Jones that at the RNC he “met Roger Stone in a restaurant in Cleveland during the RNC purely by chance. They subsequently met each other in a hotel in Washington during Trump’s inauguration, again without planning and by chance.”
“Farage told me he was seeking a meeting with the candidate and I told him I would recommend it,” Stone wrote me, “which I subsequently did in conversations with Donald and Paul Manafort.”
The former UKIP leader’s “capacity for drink and cigarettes are memorable,” Stone added. “Seemed like a very nice guy. I am confident Farage asked many in the Trump camp to help secure this meeting. I am certain others recommended it as well.”
As to the subject of their exchange or exchanges during the convention and possibly also during the inauguration, “[n]either Julian Assange nor WikiLeaks came up in any context in that conversation or any subsequent conversation as, again, I don’t recall seeing or meeting him again,” Stone wrote me.
with President Trump, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump on February 25, 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. and tweeted a photograph of the event that same day. On March 9, eleven days later, he was seen entering the Ecuadorian embassy in London by a local resident who alerted BuzzFeed to the fact. Farage was inside the embassy for 40 minutes before a BuzzFeed reporter buttonholed him
as he was leaving, along with the head of operations of LBC, a British radio station on which Farage hosts a talk show.
Farage told the outlet, “I never discuss where I go or who I see.” He later explained
to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper that his meeting with Assange was for “journalistic reasons, not political reasons… It was a private meeting.”
Whatever was discussed at that conclave, Assange had urgent business to attend to. Later that day, the fugitive Australian gave a live press conference about WikiLeaks’ latest haul of leaked documents, the drip-drip publication of which had begun on March 7. It was a data dump pertaining to the CIA’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, which WikiLeaks code-named “Vault 7.”
The timing of this leak was particularly propitious for those who not only doubted or dismissed the US intelligence community’s consensus on Russian cyber espionage in the 2016 election but who also conspiratorially insisted — as did Stone
, Assange and Trump’s other perfervid supporters — that the current president was being undermined by a “deep state
” of American spies.
March, after all, had seen Trump’s tweeting of his accusation that he had been personally “wiretapped” by President Obama and the recusal of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the Trump-Russia investigation, a recusal Trump would later abhor publicly.
“Vault 7” demonstrated how American spies use cyber warfare to snoop, via smart phones and televisions, on their friends and foes alike. If yours is the kind of mind that judges InfoWars and StoneColdTruth.com as standard-bearers of credibility, as against a compromised and biased “MSM,” what might you infer from these disclosures?
Perhaps that such sophisticated eavesdropping capabilities make Langley a likelier culprit in the hacking of the Democrats’ correspondence, a “deep state” operation blamed unfairly on Putin. Didn’t the president himself compare
the CIA to Nazis, after blaming it, without evidence, for leaking the notorious “dossier” on his alleged ties to Russia?
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Just as he had done
by publishing the first batch of Podesta emails within hours of Trump’s Access Hollywood grab-them-by-the-genitals scandal, on October 7, 2016, Julian Assange had again interrupted a news cycle unflattering to Donald Trump — and only a little more than a week after Nigel Farage sat at a dinner table with the commander in chief at the latter’s own hotel.
The Observer asked Farage’s spokesperson if he was Stone’s line of communication to Assange
and was told, “Definitely not.” (My attempts to reach Farage via the UKIP press department were unsuccessful.)
Sure, Farage isn’t an American, but he does travel back and forth between the United States and London and he is arguably a libertarian opinion journalist, partly in keeping with Stone’s description. He’s also a bit of a squish on the Kremlin. He has previously said he admires Vladimir Putin as an “operator” if not as a human being and he appears regularly on the Kremlin-financed English-language propaganda channel RT to talk about immigration to the UK, terrorism and the EU. In one especially outre piece of theatre, he was even “knighted
” on RT’s air by a child dressed as Queen Elizabeth.
US investigators might find it rather easy to determine who Stone’s “back channel” to Assange is — assuming such a person exists.
Anyone who pays call on the fugitive WikiLeaks founder is captured on CCTV, footage of which would be in the possession of MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, including, presumably, any American libertarian scribbler more closely hewing to Stone’s description of his interlocutor.
The Ecuadorian embassy in Knightsbridge lies around the corner from the department store Harrods and, thanks to its infamous resident, it’s one of the most surveilled buildings in London. It hardly needs stressing that if US counterintelligence officials in the FBI and CIA asked, MI5 would gladly share such CCTV footage with them.
Which may mean that the House Intelligence Committee already knows more than the dirty trickster thinks it does. Not that he’s bothered by that.
“I could care less if the [intelligence] leakers figure out who my source is,” Stone wrote me, “because neither he nor I know the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures.”
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