POLITICS AS UNUSUAL - Roger Stone played a key role in blocking the recount of votes in Florida that would have cost George W. Bush the Presidency in 2000.
He played a similar role in 2020 on behalf of his longtime client and part-time friend, Donald Trump. Stone expected to be with the President watching the situation unfold on January 6, 2021, but he wasn’t invited to the White House. He expected to address the crowd at the ellipse –a small entourage of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were set to accompany him– but he was never summoned. He watched the storming of the capitol on a TV set in his room at the Willard Hotel, fuming as it sank in that Rudy Giuliani and a newcomer named John Eastman were in the inner circle and he wasn’t. Then he flew down to Florida on a private jet.
Political dirty-tricks specialists typically try to stay in the background as they make mischief, but Stone, like Trump, is a credit-grabber and a show-off. When Danish documentary makers Christoffer Guldbrandsen and Frederik Marbell asked to follow him about in 2019, the ego boost outweighed the legal risk and Stone gave them access. And so his machinations will be exposed in detail when their film, “A Storm Foretold,” comes to the small screen this summer.
Stone doesn’t look like a sharp fixer –his affect is blank– but his track record is impressive. He was born in 1952 in Connecticut. He describes his family as “middle-class, Catholic.” His mother ran the PTA and wrote for the town newspaper. Roger Sr. ran a well-drilling business and the volunteer fire department. (Their dinner table conversation must have been politics at the nitty-grittiest level.) Roger Jr. became fascinated by electoral politics. At age 12 he volunteered to help out in the Goldwater campaign.
“As a student at George Washington University in 1972,” according to invaluable Wikipedia, “Stone invited Jeb Stuart Magruder to speak at a Young Republicans Club meeting, then asked Magruder for a job with Richard Nixon.” The White House appreciated his pranks –like donating money to a perceived foe of Nixon’s in the name of the Young Socialist Alliance, then sending the YSA receipt to the media. When Nixon was re-elected, Stone’s reward was a job in the Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1975 he helped build the National Conservative Political Action Committee, whose goal was to expand the amount of money donors could legally give to campaigns. In ’77 he was elected president of the Young Republicans. Paul Manafort was his campaign manager.
Working on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, Stone helped arrange an endorsement by New York’s Liberal Party for the independent candidate, John Anderson, to siphon votes from Jimmy Carter. Stone credited Roy Cohn, the fixer-of-fixers, with devising the scheme. After the statute of limitations for bribery ran out years later, Stone revealed that Cohn had given him a suitcase –presumably cash-filled– to deliver to a Liberal Party big shot.
In 1981, as chief strategist for New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, Stone helped fend off a recall. Then, with Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the White House, he got rich as a lobbyist. Stone, Manafort, and a partner launched a super-successful Washington lobbying firm. Their clients would include Mobutu Sese Seko and Ferdinand Marcos, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, The Tobacco Institute, and Donald Trump (another great admirer of Roy Cohn), who was then a casino magnate. Stone and Trump had a strong affinity but clashed occasionally over the years. One of the Danish filmmakers describes their relationship as “frenemies.”
According to legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, “Stone had a surprising admiration for the left-wing protesters of the 1960s. They knew the power of protests and Stone, following their lead, never hesitated to include noisy public demonstrations in his own political calculations.” Nor did he hesitate to have dealings with Julian Assange. Robert Mueller tried but was unable to prove that Stone had urged the Wikileaks founder to publish dirt on the Clinton campaign prior to the 2016 election. (Why would Assange need urging? Publishing such exposés was his thing.) Mueller’s investigation ultimately revealed that in 2017 Assange expressed the hope to Stone that the Administration would reconsider the 2010 case against him (for leaking the classified documents provided by Chelsea Manning).
Stone had been an uncooperative and duplicitous witness before the House Intelligence Committee. He was indicted for obstructing an investigation, making false statements, and witness tampering, arrested in 2019, and ultimately convicted on all counts. He was facing 40 months in prison when Donald Trump commuted his sentence in April 2020. He pleaded for a full pardon and Trump finally granted him one in late December. According to the forthcoming documentary, Stone kept pleading in vain for another pardon, a preemptive one to cover his and others’ post-Election-Day transgressions. He presented Trump with a five-page plan that would shield and participants in “the America First movement,” including the Republican senators and representatives who tried to block Biden’s certification. When no pardon was forthcoming, Stone cursed Trump for “betraying everybody.”
In March the Danish documentary makers showed 20 hours of their footage to Dalton Bennett and Jon Swain of the Washington Post. Excerpts from their report on the Post website follow:
+ “Stone moved quickly after Trump’s defeat to help mobilize the protest movement that drew thousands to the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021. He privately strategized with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and rally organizer Ali Alexander… A few hours before the Jan. 6 attack, the video shows, a member of the far-right Oath Keepers group — who has since pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy — was in Stone’s suite at the Willard. Other rooms in the same hotel were used as a ‘command center’ by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and other advisers involved in the fractious battle to overturn the election. Stone was not part of their effort, the footage indicates, and he said he feared that top organizers were trying to exclude him from the rally.
+ “After he left Washington, Stone lobbied for Trump to enact the ‘Stone Plan’ — a blanket presidential pardon to shield himself, Trump’s allies in Congress and ‘the America First movement’ from prosecution for trying to overturn the election.
+ “In an Inauguration Day call with a friend, Stone directed his rage at the man who had confided in him and consulted with him for decades, denouncing Trump as ‘a disgrace’ and expressing support for him to be impeached. ‘He betrayed everybody,’ Stone said.
+ “On Nov. 5, as vote counts in key states slipped away from Trump, Stone coordinated a response during a rapid-fire succession of calls. As the filmmakers drove him to his makeshift office space in a strip mall near his home, Stone told one associate to create an account for hunting election fraud on an encrypted email service to avoid surveillance. Dictating text messages, Stone told an aide to resurrect his Stop the Steal campaign. He predicted to another aide that his brand was about to be “quite a bit hotter” as a result, adding, ‘We’re going to raise money from Stop the Steal — it will be like falling off a log.'”
[Stone had coined the phrase “Stop the Steal” on Trump’s behalf in 2016 when Republican rivals were trying to block his path to the nomination.]
+ “Stone directed aides to recruit retired military and law enforcement officials for Stop the Steal.”
+ “On Nov. 5, Stone drew up a Stop the Steal action plan that was visible on a laptop in footage captured by the filmmakers. As protesters were mobilized, the plan said, state lawmakers would be lobbied to reject official results. That tactic later proved central to Trump’s efforts.
+ “Also that day, Stone had a 15-minute call with Flynn, the video shows. He told Flynn they could “document an overwhelming and compelling fraud” in each battleground state and urged him to spread the word on social media. That day, Flynn, Trump’s campaign and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric began using #StopTheSteal on Twitter.”
+ “Stone and Flynn discussed the need to coordinate with the White House and oppose demands by Republicans in some states to stop counting votes. ‘Our slogan should be “count every legal ballot.” Much better messaging. More positive,’ Stone said… That evening, Trump gave a speech from the White House briefing room. ‘If you count the legal votes, I easily win,’ he began.”
+ “On Dec. 19, Trump announced on social media that a ‘big protest’ would be held in Washington on Jan. 6. ‘Be there, will be wild!’ he wrote.
+ “Stone was transported and guarded on Jan. 5 by multiple Oath Keepers, the filmmakers’ footage and other video posted online show, and four Oath Keepers escorted Stone back to the Willard after his speech at about 8 p.m. Two of the Oath Keepers who were with Stone, Joshua James and Brian Ulrich, were later charged with seditious conspiracy after allegedly storming the Capitol. James pleaded guilty this week and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. A third, Mark Grods, admitted in a plea deal that he traveled to the D.C. area from Alabama with two guns and joined fellow members in the Capitol riot…James, one of the Oath Keepers seen guarding Stone, told a fellow Oath Keeper late on the morning of Jan. 6 that the speaker he was protecting was ‘angry because he was not getting VIP treatment.’
+ “Stone condemned the riot to the filmmakers at 4:18 p.m., saying: ‘I think it’s really bad for the movement. It hurts, it doesn’t help. I’m not sure what they thought they were going to achieve.’ In the same breath, however, he suggested that the violence was the inevitable result of election theft.
Stone is thinking in terms of “the movement,” and he’s not as dumb as he looks. Maybe the reason he expressed dismay watching his guys charge the capitol on January 6 is that he knew it was premature.