To Fort Lauderdale, in Florida, to meet Roger Stone, known as ‘the most dangerous man in politics’ to friend and foe alike. He arrives for lunch looking deeply tanned, in a white button-down shirt and blue blazer. For Stone, such details are not trivial. He hands Cockburn his new book, Stone’s Rules, a manual on how to ‘move like a pro’ in politics and in life. For both, you need to dress well. Stone’s Rule Number 36, in clothing ‘brown is the color of shit’; Rule #18, ‘White shirt + tan face = confidence’. This was how Kennedy beat Nixon in their campaign debate in 1960, in case anyone forgets that the sartorial is political. Also: Never hire a man with scuffed shoes.
At the age of 19, Stone was in the Nixon White House, beginning his notorious career as a political dirty trickster. He writes that ‘Politics ain’t beanbag; it is not for the faint of heart’. And in politics, Rule #11, ‘To win you must do everything’. For Lyndon Johnson, for example, Stone believes ‘everything’ meant the murder of John F. Kennedy. For Roger Stone, did this include conspiring with Russia to throw the 2016 election to Donald Trump? Stone denies it. He’s accused of being the link between Julian Assange, Assange’s organization, WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign. WikiLeaks published emails stolen by Kremlin hackers from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. But Stone says: ‘I never had any communication with Assange. There isn’t a piece of paper, no email, no texts. It just isn’t there.’
At our lunch, we discuss how the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, is putting pressure on Stone’s friend, Jerome Corsi. To those who believe in a Russia conspiracy, Corsi is one link in a chain from the Kremlin, through Assange, to Stone and the Trump campaign. Corsi is also the former Washington bureau chief for Infowars, the ‘news’ website run by Alex Jones that ‘EXPOSES THE SCIENTIFICALLY ENGINEERED LIES OF THE GLOBALISTS AND THEIR ULTIMATE GOAL OF ENSLAVING HUMANITY.’ (The block capitals are the website’s.) Dr Corsi, as he likes to be called, doesn’t believe that the moon landings really happened, but does believe 9.11 was an inside job. If the latest news reports are accurate, he says he has been caught in a perjury trap but is resisting pressure to flip on Stone. It seems that Mueller wants Corsi to talk about why Stone tweeted that it would soon be ‘Podesta’s time in the barrel’ – six weeks before WikiLeaks published Podesta’s emails.
Stone says there’s a perfectly innocuous explanation for this. In the summer of 2016, he was talking to Corsi about how Paul Manafort had just been sacked as Trump’s campaign chairman. Manafort was pushed out after a leak showed he had been secretly paid millions of dollars by a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. ‘So…Manafort’s getting the shit kicked out of him for his Ukrainian stuff. And I’m very angry about it, because I know that it is the Podesta people and the Clinton people who are feeding reporters. I expressed my exasperation to Jerry Corsi.’ Stone said Corsi told him to look at the Panama Papers. There he would find all kinds of links between Tony Podesta, his brother, their lobbying firm, and Ukrainian interests ultimately linked to the Kremlin.
‘And I did. Uranium, banking, gas, aluminium. You know they’re all connected to oligarchs surrounding Putin. So, my tweet says, “The Podesta’s time in the barrel.” ’ Stone says he should have moved the apostrophe over one letter: the Podestas’ time in the barrel, that is stories about the brothers’ lobbying; not Podesta’s time in the barrel, emails from the Clinton campaign chairman that would later be published by WikiLeaks. He feels he may be the first person to be indicted because of a grammatical error. ‘I’m not an English teacher.’
No doubt Stone’s critics will find this explanation all too neat and convenient. And some things do not seem to add up. For instance, the Podesta Group was lobbying for the thuggish and corrupt Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. So was Paul Manafort, Stone’s ‘boyhood friend’. Why would Stone have to go to Corsi for information he surely would already have had, or could have had, from Manafort? Stone says he was aware of Tony Podesta’s work in Ukraine. ‘It was their Russian dealings that were a surprise to me – and the motivation behind my tweet.’
Stone has also faced questions about another alleged ‘link’ to Assange, a left-wing radio host and comedian called Randy Credico. Stone and Credico have had a public spat over whether Credico was Stone’s source. Credico interviewed Assange on his show but says this was after Stone’s tweet, so he could not have passed information to prompt it. Stone says that doesn’t matter: Credico was talking to one of Assange’s lawyers for months before the interview. ‘Credico most definitely is the guy who gives me a tip that Assange has the goods and he’s going to deliver them. And he gives me this over a 50-day period, over and over and over again. Now suddenly he has amnesia.’
Stone says his version of events is supported by a leak of text messages from Credico. One of the texts from Credico says: ‘Hillary’s campaign will die this week…Now pretend u don’t know me.’ Credico denies that this is any ‘smoking gun’.
You get queasy trying to follow the complicated back-and-forth of who-said-what-to-whom-when. Simply put, the allegation is that Stone had a secret back channel to Assange. Stone’s defense is that he appeared to know what WikiLeaks was going to do because he was really paying attention to Assange’s public statements. ‘I read every interview he gave; he gave interviews to some very obscure publications. I followed the WikiLeaks Twitter feed. So taking public information, I postured, I bluffed, I hyped, and I punctured Democrats on my Twitter feed. That’s all there is to it. They still don’t have the goods…And then if they [prosecutors] did find it, define the crime. What would be the crime?’
Since the CIA views WikiLeaks as a Russian front and Assange as a Kremlin agent of influence, the alleged crime could potentially be very serious. A jury might see valuable information from a foreign government as an illegal campaign contribution. Or if – as some in US intelligence seem to believe – the Russians were directed where and who to hack in the first place, there might be a far more serious charge: treason. But then Stone, like the President, says the Russia ‘scandal’ was manufactured by the Clintons and their ‘friends’ in the FBI and the CIA. At this point, I remind Stone of his most famous rule, #81: ‘Admit nothing. Deny Everything. Launch Counterattack.’ Still, he believes that the Russia ‘hoax’ is the ‘ultimate’ dirty trick. ‘It takes an expert like me to know one.’
Nothing is on the level, he thinks (Rule #94). In the book, he tells the story of a conversation between Trump’s lawyer, Roy Cohn, and another of his clients, ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno, the mobster. Cohn says: ‘Everything can be fixed. Just costs money.’ Fat Tony asks: ‘The US Supreme Court?’ Cohn replies: ‘Costs a few dollars more.’ Perhaps, with a new attorney general, the question of whether the Mueller report will actually be published will go all the way to the Supreme Court – and the Trumpers will have the chance to test Cohn’s proposition.
Stone’s book displays glorious cynicism, about everything but clothing. This is the Roger Stone that appears from time to time in the campaign. In October 2016, he tweeted that ‘@HillaryClinton is done… Julian Assange will educate the American people soon. #LockHerUp’. Breitbart’s Washington editor emails Stone to ask: ‘Assange — what’s he got? Hope it’s good.’ We know this because – ironically – these emails were hacked or leaked and then passed to the New York Times. Stone replies: ‘It is. I’d tell Bannon but he doesn’t call me back.’ This might be bravado, not insider information. If so, Roger Stone adopted a persona called Roger Stone – and the persona might get the real Stone indicted.
Stone says he wouldn’t take a deal if offered one by Mueller because he would have to ‘fabricate something’. He has had ‘no communication’ with the President in several months ‘because his lawyers are telling him not to talk to me…But then again he’s under investigation himself, so, I have no malice towards him. I’m still his greatest supporter, and I will say so.’
Stone thinks the President is not going to run for re-election. He believes that Trump likes ‘the adulation part’ of being President but not the actual governing. And: ‘He doesn’t like the fact that half the people in the country hate his guts. He’s hypersensitive to criticism. I could easily see him saying, “Well, I made America great, I’m heading to the golf course. Mike, good luck.” ’ Again, Stone says his opinion does not come from being in possession of inside information. In this case, it’s a judgement he says comes from knowing Trump for some 40 years.
‘It costs a lot of money [in legal fees] to be the president’s friend, doesn’t it?’
‘It does, but as I look at it, had Hillary Clinton won, I’d be in the exact same position. Maybe even worse. I think that when you’re charged in the public arena, it’s a mistake to go quiet. You need to respond. If you go quiet, people assume you’re guilty.’
Stone is not going quiet, about anything. He’s funding a legal action by Danney Williams, a young African American man from Little Rock who claims that Bill Clinton is his father. Stone produced a short film about Williams during the campaign, Banished: The Untold Story of Bill Clinton’s Black Son. In it, Williams says his mother was a street corner prostitute who had an affair with Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas. Stone says Williams is a ‘sweet kid…He really just wants to know who his father is.’ Within the past few weeks, he has arranged for him to get a paternity test.
‘Danny Williams has got five kids. He’s working at a meat packing plant during the day, and he’s working at a 7-11 at night to try to make ends meet, but his biological father is worth $300 million plus. Although to me, it’s not about the money; to him it’s not about the money.’ All this is ridiculed by friends of Hillary Clinton. But Stone says Williams has started to get ‘cease and desist’ letters from the Clintons’ lawyers. ‘That’s why I think she’s running again. Otherwise, why would he bother?’
Stone has waged his own private war with the Clintons for many years. He came up with the idea of bringing four ‘wronged’ women to the second presidential debate in 2016. Hillary looked shaken as they sat in the audience and stared at her. If Stone goes to jail because of what he calls a ‘Russia witch hunt’ inspired by the Clintons, his obsession will only intensify. The last of Stone’s Rules, #140, is about revenge. ‘I will often wait years…hiding in the tall grass, my stiletto at the ready…so if you have fucked me, even if it was years ago, don’t think yourself safe.’