National News

Roger Stone Says He Had Little Contact With Manafort Deputy

Posted May 7, 2018 11:07 p.m. EDT

Roger J. Stone Jr., the self-described political dirty trickster who has served as an informal adviser to President Donald Trump, sought on Monday to portray his contact with a Trump campaign aide as minimal in response to a report that the special counsel is scrutinizing their ties.

Stone made the comments after a CNBC report that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is focusing on links between him and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign chairman. Gates pleaded guilty in February to financial fraud and lying to investigators in the Russia inquiry and is cooperating with the special counsel.

Those links included dinners before and after the campaign, according to CNBC, which cited unnamed people with direct knowledge of the matter, but Stone said in an interview that he recalled eating only one meal with Gates in 2016.

“The Gates story is somewhat perplexing,” said Stone, who spoke by phone from his New York apartment, where he had downtime as he promoted a new book.

“I only have a record of one dinner with Rick Gates,” he said, adding that the guest list included two other political operatives: Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide who was recently interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, and Paul Manafort, who soon after took over as chairman of Trump’s campaign. But Manafort canceled at the last minute, and Gates, his deputy, attended in his place.

Stone said the conversation during the dinner, which fell soon after the New York primary in April 2016, was about the New York state delegate selection for the Republican National Convention. The operatives expressed concern about whether delegates, at a time of deep division among Republicans, would be loyal to Trump’s vision for the party, Stone said.

Mueller has tried to ascertain what, if anything, Stone knew in advance about a cache of stolen Democratic emails posted by WikiLeaks, according to people familiar with what Mueller’s investigators have asked witnesses. In a speech during summer 2016 and in Twitter messages before the emails were made public in October, Stone appeared to foreshadow their release.

Those emails were made public within hours of a Washington Post report revealing the existence of a tape of “Access Hollywood” footage featuring old audio of Trump speaking in vulgar terms about women.

But Stone has insisted that he had no prior knowledge and that he was acting off what the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, had said publicly that summer, as well as information from his longtime associate Randy Credico, who had contacts close to Assange.

“Did I want to know what WikiLeaks had? Of course I did,” Stone said Monday, adding, “I still never had any advance knowledge of the content, or the form, or the exact timing” of when the emails would be leaked.

“I never got any material including allegedly hacked emails from WikiLeaks or Assange and passed them on to Donald Trump,” Stone said. “I never got anything from the Russians, whoever that is.”

Caputo was among those who were questioned about Stone’s connection to the campaign, as well as text messages he and Stone exchanged, according to two people briefed on the questions.

Stone said he never had any relationship with Assange. And he said that his lawyer had written to House Intelligence Committee officials asking for a correction to testimony he gave in the panel’s own investigation into Russia’s election interference.

The testimony addressed one of Stone’s tweets about the hacked emails, which were stolen from the account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. Two months before the emails were released, Stone predicted on his since-suspended Twitter account that it would soon be “Podesta’s time in the barrel.”

The tweet, his lawyer said, contained a grammatical error — the apostrophe. Mr. Stone had meant that to write that it would soon be “the Podestas’ time in the barrel” and was attempting to refer to Mr. Podesta and his brother, Tony, a major lobbyist, his lawyer said.

Stone, a veteran political operative, has spent years weaving narratives about himself, and others — a talent he acknowledges may have succeeded too well this time, harming him in the process.

“I put it this way — I’m a showman, and the only thing worse in politics than being wrong is being boring, and I have dramatized some of what I believe to be true,” Stone said.

He was adamant that he had not changed his story. “But I have clarified things, when questioned,” he said.

One person who has yet to question him is Mueller; Stone said he still had not heard from the special counsel’s office. He sounded a hopeful note about the lack of contact, but it could mean that Mueller is instead focused on compiling as full a picture as possible about Stone’s activities.