“FACTS ARE IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER,” SAYS ROGER STONE, TRUMP CONFIDANT
by Mattathias Schwartz
THE HISTORY OF the 2016 election is up for grabs. Vying for posterity are two competing myths. One is the Russian conspiracy that elevated Donald Trump into the White House. The other is the “deep state” conspiracy that is laboring to bring him down. The first relies on secret evidence; the second on naked speculation and paranoid hand waving. Each myth has a few bits of fact dangling behind it; both are currently impossible to verify or refute.
Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and bon vivant, has dealt in this epistemological netherworld for decades. He now has a starring role in the Russia-Trump narrative, as one of four Trump associates reportedly under scrutiny for their ties to Russia, and the only one who spoke openly during the campaign about contact with WikiLeaks. Over the weekend, Trump attempted to seize the offensive, accusing Obama of tapping Trump Tower phone lines. After an Obama spokesperson issued a denial, Stone flew off the handle.
Stone had especially harsh words for two women, calling Republican commentator Ana Navarro “fat” and “stupid” and one of his online critics a “stupid, ignorant, ugly bitch.” The latter tweet, which Stone deleted, came after Stone said he had a “perfectly legal back channel to Assange.” (In a Monday email, Stone wrote that “My tweet re. Navarro is only the truth.” Regarding his links to Assange, “I didn’t admit it—I ANNOUNCED it. Assange does NOT work for the Russians and no one has proved otherwise.”) Indeed, Stone announced during a speech last August that he had “communicated with Assange.” “I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation,” he continued. “But there’s no telling what the October surprise might be.”
By that time, WikiLeaks had already released thousands of emails from inside the Democratic National Committee, sowing discord during the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Stone’s prediction turned out to be a pretty good one. In October, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of additional emails from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
That Stone, a longtime associate of Trump, would brag about ties to WikiLeaks will come as no surprise to those who have followed his long career as a bridge between respectable politicians and the shady saboteurs (or “ratfuckers,” as they were once known) who can deliver campaign knockout blows. Stone began his political career in Washington on the less reputable margins of the Nixon administration. In 1980, he co-founded the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, which advised several Republican presidential candidates as well as corporations and foreign states. An early profile of Stone by Jacob Weisberg from this period pokes fun at Stone’s “self-generated image as a kingmaker,” while noting that the 32-year-old was pulling down a salary of $450,000 a year.
As a policy adviser, Stone has set himself up as an emissary of the white working class, advising candidates to focus on fiscal conservatism and a strong, conflict-averse military, while avoiding strong stances on thorny social issues like gay marriage and abortion. As a tactician, Stone has deployed a variety of unorthodox methods, including disinformation and threats. Stone once undertook a paid smear campaign against Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, during which someone calling from Stone’s number left a message on the voicemail of Spitzer’s father threatening an official subpoena. “There’s not a goddamn thing your phony, psycho, piece-of-shit son can do about it,” said the voice, which “does sound eerily like me,” Stone later said, in an interview with the filmmaker Alex Gibney.
Stone’s lobbying partner Paul Manafort went on to serve as Donald Trump’s second campaign manager during the 2016 presidential race. Manafort resigned under a cloud following reports that he took millions of dollars from a pro-Putin party in Ukraine. Stone, by his own account, had been talking to Trump about a possible presidential run as early as 1988. Manafort, like Stone, is now among the four Trump advisers whose communications and finances are reportedly under scrutiny as part of a federal investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Stone’s new campaign book, “The Making of the President 2016,” rehashes the campaign season while gently reminding the reader how early, and how often, Roger Stone was in the room. The preface begins by attributing Trump’s victory to the talent, energy, and foresight of Donald Trump himself. It ends with a story of Stone claiming credit for inadvertently saving Trump’s life by delaying him from what turned out to be a fatal helicopter crash. Stone attributes this providential event to cosmic forces. “I know that his life was spared to save our Republic,” he writes.
Like Stone, Trump has a genius for controlling the narrative through repetition. Two appendices document the memes that Stone set into motion on Trump’s behalf. There is a chronology of the “Clinton Rape Tee,” a riff on the Obama/Hope poster, and an impressive list of online traffic statistics relating to Danney Williams, who has long insisted that he is Bill Clinton’s secret love child. The claim was proven to be false in 1999, but, as Stone writes about the Obama birth certificate controversy, one can keep “fanning the flames of uncertainty.” In the case of Williams, Stone has attacked the validity of an old DNA test and promised that a paternity suit would be filed sometime in the future. Stone claims that the Danny Williams meme, supported by a hip-hop video and a targeted Facebook campaign, suppressed the African-American vote in key battleground states. “Truth is not enough,” Stone writes. “It’d be nice if it were, but that’s not the world in which we live. People are busy and have a lot of distractions … attaching truth to something else, especially humor or shock, makes it stick.”
Truth, in other words, doesn’t stand a chance in a click-hungry traffic-driven media environment.
Stone and I spoke by phone twice, on February 26 and March 2. This interview is compiled from both conversations. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What is your current role in the Trump administration?
First and foremost, I am a Trump supporter. I am a Trump friend. I’m a writer, and I express myself best in a memo. I understand how to write a short, pithy, and topical memo. I prefer to share my advice that way. I have no official role whatsoever, other than Trump supporter and friend. And of course, I have to politically kibitz from time to time.
What does the kibitzing entail?
Generally, I think communications between the president and myself should remain private. But my views are well known. You can find them on Twitter. For example, one cannot oppose federal power and cite states’ rights on the transgender bathroom issue, and then turn around say that you support states’ rights to legalize medical marijuana, and then turn around and say that you’re going to crack down on states that legalize recreational marijuana. There’s an intellectual inconsistency there. It is also harmful to the Trump coalition. Although a lot of anti-marijuana conservatives voted for Donald Trump, it’s not their motivating issue. On the other hand, for a lot of young voters and libertarian voters in the Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Gary Johnson realm, this is the issue for them. They voted for Trump based on his assurances about states’ rights. Lastly, legal marijuana is a regulated, billion-dollar business. If you crack down on the three states that have passed recreational marijuana, you’ll lose roughly 200,000 jobs. States and counties will go bankrupt because they’ve already budgeted the tax revenue. So that’s an example of the kind of issue about which I’d be happy to share my opinion with the president.
How does Donald Trump consume information? How does he think through issues and make decisions?
Trump likes to be verbally briefed, after which he asks a number of very tough questions. And he doesn’t always make a decision. He takes it on the wing and says, “OK, I’ll think about it.” He does read. But if you’re writing for him, you need to get to the point — right to the basic facts. He is — at least during the period when I was involved on a daily basis — he was never particularly net-savvy. He would often have the top 10 news stories that were on the net printed out and put in a pile. Then he would read them first thing in the morning. Often, he will either write questions at the bottom of your memo, for you to respond to. Or he will say, “I have questions, call me on this.”
What do you make of his use of Twitter?
Let me back up to your question. As I say in the book, I think this was the first election in which finally the mainstream media lost their monopoly on the dissemination of political information. Now, they have to share the marketplace. This is largely based on a technological advance, as we move from television sets to handheld devices. You can still watch CBS on your handheld device, but you’ve got to go through the internet to get it. When you get to the internet, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that there are more, and better, news outlets. You have choice.
The cost of reaching a large audience has plummeted.
Exactly. Scoff at the politics of Infowars and Alex Jones if you wish. He’s reaching between 12 and 15 million people every week.
I wanted to ask about Alex Jones. You’ve become a regular guest on his show and a sort of emissary between him and the more traditional Republican Party. Now, you’re a familiar figure on the American scene. You were profiled by the New Yorker. You’ve advised presidents. Alex Jones has also been around for a while, and he’s put out a lot of wild stuff, conspiracy theories about Operation Jade Helm, FEMA Camps, crisis actors in Sandy Hook. Does any of that bother you?
First of all, I really like Alex Jones. I think he’s a patriot whose heart is in the right place. Because I appear on Infowars, that does not mean of course that I agree with him on every issue. Just as when I appear on CNN, that doesn’t mean I agree with Wolf Blitzer on everything. I do agree with him on many things. I have not written or read on all these issues. To this day, I don’t know what a chemtrail is. But he’s entitled to these views. Obviously, his audience, which is large, is not turned off by his alternative views. They’re turned on by them. On the issues of immigration and American sovereignty and personal freedom and civil liberties, I agree with him. Jones’s impact within the Republican primaries is very understated. Literally millions of people are watching him on multiple platforms.
I understand that as an audience-mover, he’s a phenomenon.
It’s a massive audience. And these people are Republican primary voters. More precisely, they are Republican activists. They go out and encourage other people to vote in Republican primaries. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the Alex Jones constituency when Alex Jones was up against the Republican establishment and he needed to attract new people.
But is there any risk if millions of people listen to one of these shows and decide that FEMA has a secret plan to put them into camps?
Is there any risk in people seeing the president of United States say that they can keep their health care plan if they like their health care plan? Is there any risk in the president of the United States saying, “Read my lips, no new taxes”? Those are disinformation. I don’t want to say disinformation as well, because I’m unfamiliar with the FEMA camp report that you’re talking about. I haven’t read it. Don’t know it. But, you know, caveat emptor. Let the consumer decide what they choose to believe and who they choose to believe.
That certainly seemed to be BuzzFeed’s attitude when they explained why they published the Trump dossier.
Exactly. And by the way, I never attacked them for publishing the dossier. I attacked John McCain for passing it on, when it was rife with typos and so obviously a fraud. I’ve seen this same exact memo four times. Somebody has always been peddling this since the beginning of the presidential campaign. They get no takers. Because anybody who thinks about this would understand that given Trump’s level of sophistication, if not paranoia, and his love of privacy, if for no other reason than to preserve the element of surprise, and his germophobia — the whole thing is absurd! Zero chance that he would party with a bunch of prostitutes involving urine.
What about these reports that you were in contact with Russian intelligence? Why are law enforcement sources risking their credibility with New York Times reporters and claiming that they have collected evidence under a FISA warrant showing that this is true?
If there is a FISA warrant and my emails and text messages and presumably phone calls have been under surveillance for over a year — all on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, as the FISA court is widely understood to be a rubber stamp for the government — then that is an outrageous violation of my civil liberties on the basis of no evidence. They may learn many, many things. Obviously my communications are private and intensely personal. But I’ll tell you what they’ll also learn. I have not been in touch with any Russians. There is nothing there, regarding the Russians, to see. So ultimately, it will prove my point. This meme begins at the instant Donald Trump said that if the Russians have Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, they should release them. From that point on, Trump-is-in-bed-with-Putin becomes a talking point of the Clinton campaign, and their allies in the Obama administration, who include the people in the intelligence agencies, who are, after all, political appointees at the top, second, and third levels.
I’ve addressed this ad nauseum, in the book and elsewhere. We have a mutual friend. My friend communicates with Assange and he communicates with me. He told me that WikiLeaks has devastating information on Hillary and they’ll start unloading it the first week in October. That’s it. In fact, early in October, Assange announced that he’d be releasing something in the beginning of the week for the next 10 weeks. And he does. And it’s devastating. And it’s all about Hillary. The implication that I had some role or some inside knowledge of precisely the timing and the substance of what Assange and WikiLeaks were going to do is false. Or that I had any input to it, that’s false. I merely said what I had learned, and I reported it at my own website. It’s a big jump from there to “Stone knew everything in advance.” And yes, I did in August say that Podesta’s time in the barrel would come. That was based on my own research into Podesta. None of that information came from WikiLeaks. The idea that I was foreshadowing the hacking of Podesta’s email is false.
Has anyone from federal law enforcement reached out to you as part of an investigation?
No. I would be happy to cooperate with any balanced and impartial investigation by the federal government. But just the disclosure of the FISA warrant is a felony. Just as the disclosure of the surveillance of Gen. Flynn is a felony. So, the leakers at the agency, presumably, beneath the director, are breaking the law. The president is justified in being angry about this.
People broke the law to tell the New York Times that there was an investigation into classified content in Hillary Clinton’s emails. Those were felonies as well, right?
Probably right. But let’s recognize that these agencies are not monolithic. At the top level, you have Obama appointees. At the bottom level, you have honest men and women who are trying to do their duty and have their own views. I suspect there is always an internal struggle and sometimes there are leaks against the leadership, when an agent feels that the agency is covering up a crime, he might leak that. But as Glenn Greenwald said recently in a headline, that’s a justifiable crime.
Greenwald was writing about leaking against Trump.
I understand why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it less illegal. That’s all I’m saying.
When an issue like Russia becomes this politicized, how can a president come up with a policy? Is there any way to clear the water?
That’s the point of this exercise. There is an effort by those in the government who favor the status quo as far as Russia is concerned, with a continued Cold War, to put the president in a straitjacket so that he can’t make any change in policy if he wishes to. Anybody who thinks Trump is going to go limp about politics in the region doesn’t understand him. His position may be more nuanced, but I don’t think that he is going to roll back any punitive measures against Russia. He is not in Putin’s pocket.
Here’s what I don’t understand. You talk about the neocons who want war and make Trump sound like a Rand Paul-style isolationist, but then I hear him talk about totally obliterating ISIS and taking a much harder line.
He’s left with no choice. ISIS is a loose end. They have to be dealt with. The reason we have them is adventurism by previous administrations. Trump’s call to rebuild our strength and be a deterrent sounds to me like Barry Goldwater. Peace through strength is not a neocon slogan. I don’t think Trump is an isolationist. He’s a non-interventionist.
Earlier you said that Alex Jones has the right to say what he wants to say. Is there anything wrong with Trump using the bully pulpit to call the media “enemies of the people?”
Trump is a truth-teller. He calls it as he sees it. He’s not wrong. This is the politics of polarization, which got Nixon re-elected in 1972 with 49 states. This is pointing out to the people the difference between the regular people and the elites, and how they lie. How they push a false narrative. How big media is in bed with big government and the establishment in the two-party duopoly. They’re invested in the status quo. Yeah, I think that’s all fair commentary, but —
— but is it different when the president says it?
I think the president is precisely the one who should say it. This is an example of leadership. To those who say this is divisive, well, we’re tired of polite. We’re tired of the phoniness of Washington in which politicians say things because they’re politically correct, things that they know are not true. Trump is not going to do that.
It’s not the divisiveness. It’s more like this guy takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and then sets about talking down most of the values enshrined in the First Amendment by attacking the notion that people can say whatever they want.
I don’t think he’s calling for them to be censored. It’s the left that is calling for the censorship of those who they decide are fake news.
But when the president calls someone an “enemy,” isn’t he calling for heavier sanctions than mere censorship? When the head of the largest military apparatus in the world calls someone an enemy of the people … that’s a military term, right?
That’s an unfair extrapolation of what he said. He didn’t mention censorship. He didn’t mention actions against them. He does have the right to say: “Don’t believe them.” And that’s really what he’s saying. “Don’t believe these people.”
So the military connotation was not his intent?
At the juncture that the president or his administration advocates censorship, that’s when they lose me. I’m outraged now by the attempts to censor my webpage, my YouTube feed, my Twitter feed. Twitter has me on some kind of logarithmic slowdown. The number of retweets has dropped. I have 150,000 followers, but I can’t get verified. There are other people passing themselves off as Roger Stone and I still can’t get verified. Not that I care, but this is just an example of the games being played. I’m against censorship, period. Let everybody have access to the market. I’m outraged by the attempts to censor me and my allies just as I would be outraged by any attempt to censor the president’s critics. [ed. — The Intercept has contacted Twitter regarding both of Stone’s claims and will update this post with any response.]
Do you have any predictions for how Trump’s coalition will evolve over the next election cycle?
It depends on whether the president is true to those who elected him. I would have to admit, candidly, when I see this many people from Goldman Sachs in the house, that I find it mildly disturbing. When I see all these quislings from the Republican National Committee on the staff and then people wonder why the place is leaking like a sieve. But in the end, I put my faith in the president.
You’ve talked about the “deep state.” Why is it that when the intelligence community is leaking about Flynn’s Russia contacts, that is the work of the deep state, but when the FBI leaks about Hillary’s emails, that isn’t the deep state? Is there a difference?
Because the people who I suspect are leaking against the president are running these agencies and have authority. The leaks that have come out against Hillary are coming from the middle and lower levels of the agencies from people who see a political cover-up and want to thwart it. They are not the deep state. They don’t run anything. They just have information. They may have a political view, but they are not running the agency. They have no influence beyond their obtaining, or having access to, information.
They had enough influence to get Comey to put out that letter before the election.
Comey had no choice. The NYPD had and has a copy of the 650,000 emails. Comey’s statement, days before the election, that there’s nothing in there, is a bald-faced lie. This is just supposition, but I think the FBI director looked at the content and said they’re going to hang me if I don’t do something.
My colleague Jon Schwarz has asked this question: Why doesn’t Trump just declassify everything we have about his supposed Russia contacts and those of members of his campaign, just to put the matter at rest?
Not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Perfectly OK with me.
How are you thinking about the controversy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn’t meet with any Russians?
I think it’s conceivable that he misunderstood the question, that he thought he was being asked if he had spoken to any Russian contact about the campaign and therefore he thought a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador in which politics was not in any way the subject — he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — would not pertain. That’s just a guess. It’s still immaterial. The Trump campaign didn’t have any contact with the Russians, wasn’t infiltrated with the Russians, didn’t get any help from the Russians. They call me a dirty trickster? This is the greatest Democratic dirty trick of all. This all dates to a Hillary Clinton campaign talking point. There’s no beef. There’s no proof. Because it didn’t happen.
It does seem like the Trump transition was in touch with the Russians at some point. Are there reasons for that that might be innocuous?
First of all, that would be after the election. Secondarily, I don’t know that that’s improper. The new administration is going to have to have some relationship and communication with the Russians. It looked to me like Gen. Flynn’s call was for the purposes of setting up a phone call between the presidents of the two countries. That appears to be perfectly appropriate and within his job description. I have no idea why he misled the vice president about it.
Could there be reasons for contact with the Russians, during the campaign, before the election, that would not necessarily be inappropriate?
None come to mind. There’s no reason. There just isn’t any reason. Why would you do that? Congresswoman Maxine Waters said the Russians fedTrump the line “Crooked Hillary.” Bullshit. Donald Trump came up with Crooked Hillary. As he did Lyin’ Ted. As he did Little Marco. [ed. — In fact,Waters questioned whether that had happened, and gave it as an example of collusion that would be an impeachable offense.]
So all these members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who say that the FBI does have evidence of contact between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — is that all made up?
Let’s see it. Yes. I’m calling them out. I say, it’s not true. Let’s see the proof. Again, they may have been told that by some of the intelligence agencies but where’s the beef? Where’s the proof? Again, the New York Times specifically says, emails, records of financial transactions, and transcripts of phone calls. Produce them! Where are they! Let’s settle this once and for all. [ed. — The Times reported that federal agencies had obtained “intercepted communications and financial transactions” from the Trump campaign as part of their investigation, and that “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”]
You said this intermediary with WikiLeaks was a mutual friend and an American journalist. Is there anything else you can share about that contact?
No. But given that it is true, if you reject the idea that WikiLeaks works for the Russians, what difference would it make? I would have every right to communicate directly or indirectly with WikiLeaks. I believe Assange when he says he doesn’t work for any nation-state. He doesn’t work for the Russians.
I guess it comes down to this: At what point does contact equal coordination? Or is it just meeting with people and talking?
You write for a website. I write for a website. Your job is to go out and ask questions. Seek information. That’s also my job. That’s what I do. I’m a best-selling author. I have a website with thousands of people reading it every day. And I have no official role in the Trump campaign. And I’m not on the Trump payroll.
Is it accurate that you did have an official role prior to August?
Yes. I was a consultant for three months — June, July, and August.
And you were paid for that period of time.
Given all that, why not just talk to Assange directly?
I never made any attempt to do so.
You said you heard that there might be leaks coming. But knowing everything about you, and the hard work that you’ve done to get clients elected in the past, wouldn’t it be reasonable for people to guess that if you were in touch with Assange, you would try to coordinate the timing of these releases? Why not do that?
But why would anyone believe that I had any reasonable ability to do so? Assange’s goal is not the election of Donald Trump. I would have no influence with him. Why would I have any reason to believe that he is interested in advice or coordination?
Actually, some have suggested that Assange’s goal was to elect Donald Trump, given the content of the WikiLeaks releases and their timing.
People are entitled to believe whatever they want. They’re certainly entitled to believe that I might try to do that. I just didn’t. Again, just like you don’t divulge the identity of your sources, I have no compulsion or requirement to divulge the identity of mine. A good source told me accurately that he had learned from WikiLeaks, that he had learned from Assange, that they had devastating political information on Hillary Clinton that they would begin to disclose in October. That’s the sum total of what I knew. I never sent any message back.
In the book’s appendix, you cite traffic figures for the propagation of the meme around Danney Williams, who continues to claim that he is Bill Clinton’s secret love child.
Frankly, I think anybody who has seen the multiple videos will say that Danney and his mother and his aunt make a pretty compelling argument. Remember, this isn’t a court of law. This is the court of public opinion. Obviously, many African-American voters believe that Danney is Bill’s son. As I show in the book, in the places targeted [with the Williams meme by the Trump campaign], African-American voter participation was down overall, and Clinton’s share was off from her national averages.
If those voters believe it’s true, does it matter whether it’s true?
The point is, it is true. I believe it’s true. And I believe it will be proven. For anybody who says “you are spreading disinformation,” I just don’t agree with that. I think I am spreading the truth.
In the book, you say that the truth gets lost with the car keys sometimes, that it doesn’t quite stick on its own. What is truth to you, given all this evidence flying back and forth and people’s beliefs being so malleable? How do you think of the truth?
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? It’s a question that can’t be answered. Facts are, obviously, in the eye of the beholder. You have an obligation to make a compelling case. Caveat emptor. Let the consumer decide what he or she believes or doesn’t believe based on how compelling a case you put forward for your point of view.
That sounds like a relativist position.
But that’s what campaigns are about. Obama claims that he created jobs. His opponents claim that he didn’t.
It seems that with each subsequent election cycle, there is less political reality outside of the campaign.
The voters have always made the decision. Lyndon Johnson said we weren’t going any further into Vietnam. He got elected. What did he do? He went further into Vietnam. Franklin Roosevelt said he wasn’t going to send your sons or daughters into any foreign war. Except that he did, shortly after winning the election.
Jeff Sessions says that he didn’t meet with any Russians. Then it turns out that he did. You say you didn’t meet with any Russians. And you’re saying that we should trust you on that.
Well, I’m saying that it will ultimately be proven that I didn’t.
Again, couldn’t President Trump prove exactly that by ordering that these records be declassified?
I don’t think there’s anything to declassify. That’s the point. As we discussed earlier, if the FISA court really did issue a secret warrant for my communications over a year ago, that’s an outrageous violation of my right to privacy. But I can sleep at night because I know those records will show no contact with anybody or anything Russian.
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About the author Mattathias Schwartz