- Hollis Johnson
It took nearly 20 years for Roger Stone to realize his dream.
Since the 1980s, the self-described “dirty trickster” who’s been in and around Republican politics for half a century, had made it something of a mission to make Donald Trump president.
Despite parting ways with the Trump campaign in August 2015 – Trump says he fired Stone for hogging the media spotlight; Stone says he quit because Trump attacked Megyn Kelly – Stone has remained one of Trump’s most loyal true believers. And it’s Stone’s communications with a Russian hacker and his alleged communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that have put him in the crosshairs of the FBI as investigators look for connections between Trump’s campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Stone says he has nothing to do with Russia, but messages he has sent to the hacker accused of a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee, as well as Stone’s own provocative statements, continue to raise questions.
“It’s rare that I’m accused of something that I’m not guilty of,” Stone told the New Yorker in 2008. Now it’s up to investigators to test that.
Stone and the Russians
On August 12, nearly a year after he left Trump’s campaign and a few weeks after WikiLeaks, a radical-transparency group, published the first set of stolen emails from the DNC, Stone reached out through a private message to a Twitter user named “Guccifer 2.0.”
Earlier that August, Stone had written on the alt-right website Breitbart, then controlled by Steve Bannon, that it was “a hacker who goes by the name of Guccifer 2.0” – and not the Russians – who hacked the DNC and fed the documents to WikiLeaks.
But experts quickly linked Guccifer 2.0 back to Russia and concluded that the so-called hacker was the product of a Russian disinformation campaign.
In his messages with Guccifer 2.0, Stone asked if the hacker could retweet his Breitbart column about the 2016 presidential election possibly being “rigged.”
Guccifer 2.0 responded: “i’m pleased to say that u r great man. please tell me if i can help u anyhow. it would be a great pleasure to me.”
Stone later told Business Insider that the interaction he had with the hacker was so “brief and banal” that he “had forgotten it.”
“Not exactly 007 stuff even if Gruccifer [sic] 2.0 was working for the Russkies,” Stone said. “Meaningless.”
Stone’s tweets in the days after his communications with Guccifer 2.0 have raised questions about whether he knew in advance that Podesta’s emails would be imminently published by WikiLeaks.
On August 21, Stone sent a series of famously prescient tweets. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.” On October 1 Stone tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done.”
Four days later, WikiLeaks published its first set of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta.
In October, Stone said he had “back-channel communication with Assange,” but has denied having any direct contact with WikiLeaks, saying that he had been getting his information from a mutual friend he shares with Assange.
But this week, Natasha Bertrand of The Atlantic obtained private messages between Stone and the Wikileaks Twitter account during the fall of 2016.
“Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending wikileaks and assange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to rexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R,” Stone wrote to Wikileaks on October 13, 2016.
Wikileaks responded the same day, “We appreciate that. However, the false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.”
“Ha!” Stone wrote back on October 15. “The more you ‘correct’ me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”
On November 9, the morning after Trump won the presidential election, Wikileaks wrote to Stone, “Happy? We are now more free to communicate.”
It is unclear whether Stone and Wikileaks had any other private communications either before October 13 or after November 9, 2016. Stone told the House Intelligence Committee in a prepared statement last September that his communications with Wikileaks were always conducted through his journalist “intermediary.”
“I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange and have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist,” Stone told the Committee.
- Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Stone told Business Insider in early March 2017 that he “had no contacts or communications with the Russian State, Russian Intelligence or anyone fronting for them or acting as intermediaries for them,” he said. “None. Nada. Zilch. I am not in touch with any Russians. don’t have a Russian girlfriend, don’t like Russian dressing and have stopped drinking Russian Vodka.”
Seventeen US intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia had interfered in the US election by hacking into the DNC and John Podesta’s inbox and leaking the stolen documents to WikiLeaks to undermine Hillary Clinton.
US intelligence agencies and the House and Senate intelligence committees are investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with, or was complicit in, Russia’s election-related meddling. They have found no evidence so far that the Trump campaign actively collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election.
In March, Stone volunteered to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation. Stone has also been asked to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee and preserve any relevant documents about contact he may have had with Russians during the election.
The White House, for its part, is attempting to distance itself from Stone. During a press conference on March 20, 2017, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Stone and Trump talk occasionally but that Stone’s work for the campaign ended in August 2015.
“I don’t know at all when the last time they even spoke was,” Spicer said.
If they’re not speaking now, that would be a departure from nearly four decades of close friendship.
‘Admit nothing, deny everything’
Stone was perhaps the first, and most influential, person to believe in Trump’s political potential.
In 1988, Stone tried to persuade him to run for president. Trump decided against it, but 12 years later he launched a presidential exploratory committee, which Stone chaired.
Since the 1980s, Stone and Trump have fostered a close professional and political relationship. Stone has been characterized as Trump’s longest-serving adviser.
Stone and Trump share remarkably similar worldviews and approaches to politics. Like Trump, Stone has a penchant for making bold, unsubstantiated claims, promoting conspiracy theories, and being unafraid of controversy. He told The New Yorker in 2008 that “The only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring.”
Stone encouraged Trump’s infamous “birther” conspiracy, which claimed that President Obama wasn’t born in the US, and promoted unsubstantiated theories that Bill Clinton was a serial rapist and fathered a son.
Trump has apparently adopted many of Stone’s ideas and methods. Stone told The New Yorker in 2008 that “Politics is not about uniting people. It’s about dividing people. And getting your fifty-one per cent.” One of his cardinal rules was “Attack, attack, attack-never defend” and “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack.”
“It takes a certain kind of consultant who could work for a candidate like Donald Trump and it takes a certain kind of candidate to hire a consultant like Roger Stone,” says Chris Barron, a Washington-based political consultant who has worked with Stone in the past, told the National Review in 2015.
In the trailer for a Netflix documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” which will be released in May, Trump says of Stone: “He loves the game, he has fun with it, and he’s very good at it.”
Both Stone and Trump are preoccupied with the news media, and they rail against it as being biased, but both also court publicity. Stone is known for being easily accessible, and he seems to relish providing reporters with provocative sound bites. As Stone told The New York Times in 2015 of his life philosophy, “Never miss the opportunity to have sex or be on television, as Gore Vidal said.”
The media has, in turn, portrayed Stone as everything from a “state-of-the-art sleazeball” to a dangerous conspirator. But Stone relishes these descriptions – the more unflattering the better.
“I revel in your hatred, because if I weren’t effective you wouldn’t hate me,” Stone says in the trailer for “Get Me Roger Stone.”
Stone, who has been a Republican operative for almost 50 years, has long treated politics and campaigning as a battle to be won at any cost. As a junior in high school and vice president of the student government, he forced the president out and succeeded him.
”I built alliances and put all my serious challengers on my ticket,” Stone told The New York Times in 1999. “Then I recruited the most unpopular guy in the school to run against me. You think that’s mean? No, it’s smart.”
Notably, Stone has remained an unapologetic Nixon supporter to this day. After working for Nixon’s campaign in the 1970s, he maintained a close relationship with the president and regularly dined with him at his home in the years following the president’s resignation. Stone has a tattoo of Nixon’s face across his back and a large photograph of the former president over his bed.
Among many, Stone is better known for his eccentricities than his political work.
Throughout his career, Stone has cultivated what he calls his “extraordinary wardrobe,” which includes a taste for seersucker suits and top hats, a style that The New Yorker has said makes Stone look “like a Prohibition-era mobster.”
“If life is a stage, then you should always be in costume,” Stone told The Times.
- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
‘He always tries taking credit for things he never did’
Stone and Trump have had a rocky relationship. In 2008, Trump called Stone a “stone-cold loser,” telling The New Yorker that “he always tries taking credit for things he never did.”
In August 2015, Stone parted ways with Trump’s campaign. While Trump announced that he had fired Stone, accusing him of attempting “to use the campaign for his own personal publicity,” Stone said that he resigned, making public a letter he said he had sent to Trump arguing that the campaign was being derailed by “controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights.”
Stone’s departure came as Trump faced scrutiny surrounding his controversial comments about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Some conservatives believed Trump’s campaign would suffer without Stone to guide it.
“It’s hard to overstate just how close Trump and Stone have been over the years,” the National Review wrote after Stone had left the campaign. “Trump without Stone is akin to George W. Bush without Karl Rove or Barack Obama without David Axelrod.”
But even after Stone left the campaign, he remained a strong supporter, calling himself “the ultimate Trump loyalist.” In January, Stone published a book, “The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution,” in which he says Trump was “put on Earth” to be president.
From Nixon to Bush
Stone was raised in Lewisboro, New York, in a white working-class family. He told The New Yorker that while growing up adjacent to New Canaan, a wealthy Connecticut suburb, he saw himself as “living in kind of a bridge between two cultures, the white working class and the white upper class.”
Stone remains convinced that both groups of white Americans should be politically united against what he sees as an overreaching government.
After high school Stone moved to DC to attend George Washington University. He never graduated.
Stone made his debut in national politics at 19, when he sent campaign contributions in the name of a socialist organization to Richard Nixon’s rival in the 1972 Republican presidential primary. He then sent a letter to The New Hampshire Union-Leader with the donation receipt, in an attempt to undermine Nixon’s competitor.
In a 2008 New Yorker article, Stone told reporter Jeffrey Toobin that Nixon started the “exodus of working-class people from the Democratic Party” and realigned the Republican Party’s platform to one founded on antielitism.
“We were the party of the workingman! We wanted lower taxes for everyone, across the board,” Stone said. “The point that the Democrats missed was that the people who weren’t rich wanted to be rich.”
As Toobin wrote, “Stone represents the less discussed but still vigorous legacy of Richard Nixon.”
In 1976, Stone joined Ronald Reagan’s first, unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination as national youth director. Four years later, Stone took on the role of political director of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, helping pave Reagan’s path to the White House.
But Stone, ever the campaigner, didn’t take a position in the Reagan administration and instead started a political consulting and lobbying firm, Black, Manafort, Stone & Atwater, along with Paul Manafort, who, decades later, would become Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman.
Stone’s corporate clients included Trump businesses and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., on whose behalf Stone lobbied his former campaign colleagues in the administration, and more controversial characters, including dictators in Zaire and the Philippines, and rebels in Angola.
Stone and his firm were on the forefront of a new era of political operatives lobbying their former campaign colleagues, now in powerful positions in the administration, to serve their private-sector ends.
But Stone was drawn back into campaigning when George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1988, serving as a senior consultant to Bush. Stone continued jumping between the campaign trails – for Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter and Kansas Republican Bob Dole – until he was kicked off Dole’s presidential campaign after Stone and his wife were caught soliciting “similar couples or exceptional muscular” men for group sex. (Stone denied the accusations at the time but later admitted they were accurate.)
After Stone left Black, Manafort, Stone & Atwater in the mid-1990s, he ran various campaigns, including a billionaire’s bid for New York governor, and then moved down to Miami. In 2000, he was instrumental in orchestrating the so-called Brooks Brothers riot – a chaotic pro-Bush protest outside the Miami recount center – which helped shut down the Florida recount in the presidential election, securing George W. Bush’s victory over Al Gore.
While he may still be living life in Fort Lauderdale, far from the epicenter of American politics, Stone continues to show up in the midst of scandal. The question is, will he find a way to skirt consequences this time?
Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.