WASHINGTON ― Members of the House intelligence committee asked notorious GOP political operative Roger Stone, under oath and behind closed doors, whether he played a role in the fake Facebook accounts now at the center of probes of Russian collusion with Donald Trump’s camp in the 2016 presidential campaign.
The line of questioning was logical enough. Beginning with his work in Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, the 65-year-old Stone has specialized in undercutting the Democratic base by secretly financing controversy over “wedge” issues ― such as race relations ― that pit liberals against the far left. That very strategy was used in many Facebook ads.
“They did ask me about it and I said that I had nothing to do with it,” he told HuffPost after his committee appearance.
“By the way,” he added with typical cheek, “a hundred thousands dollars worth of Facebook ads in a national presidential campaign is like pissing in the ocean.”
That was an interesting answer for two reasons. One, the implication was that he had no objection to the tactic; secondly, even modest amounts of money spent in key places could have made a difference in the election’s outcome. Trump’s victory, after all, hinged on him carrying Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by narrow margins ― less than one percentage point in all three.
The Facebook ad campaign was only one of a panoply of topics Stone said he was quizzed on ― none of them a surprise to him, he added. Others included whether he had contacts with Russians, Russian entities, or WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and if he had advance knowledge of Wikileaks’ release of private emails by Democratic officials that proved damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In all cases, Stone said, he flatly denied any such involvement: in “colluding” with Russians on behalf of anyone, or having direct contact with either Assange or WikiLeaks. He has previously acknowledged being in contact with Assange through an “intermediary,” who on Tuesday he said was a journalist he declined to identify. But he said he would seek the journalist’s permission to provide his name to the committee.
The panel’s questioning “was all what I expected and I denied it all because there is nothing there,” he said.
A counter puncher and an expert at distraction like his longtime friend Trump, Stone said that the only “surprising” moment in the interview was when the committee’s ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, disclosed that the Democratic National Committee had decided to give the FBI direct access to its data server.
“They apparently hadn’t bothered to tell Trey Gowdy (a South Carolina Republican on the panel) and he stormed out,” Stone said happily ― glad to offer what he claimed was a glimpse of rancor among committee members investigating him.
But also like Trump, Stone’s stories have a way of not checking out. DNC officials said they long ago gave the FBI full access to the contents of their server. And Gowdy said Stone’s account was flat wrong, adding that he stayed for the entire session.
A man who glories in his own notoriety ― who bragged about his admiration for the disgraced Nixon, for example, and his role in organizing the “Brooks Brothers Riot” by George W. Bush supporters during the recount of the Florida vote that decided the 2000 election ― Stone thumbed his nose at the committee by dwelling afterward on the quality of his Savile Row suit.
“It’s a double-pinstripe blue, nailhead fabric,” he said. “It’s by Anderson & Sheppard, of course,” he said. “They’re in London.”
He added that when the FBI, as part of the Russian collusion probe, raided the home of Paul Manafort ― Trump’s former campaign chairman and a Stone associate since 1980 ― the agents had to confront a closet full of inferior suits.
“They were expensive, but Paul has terrible taste,” he said.
Ryan J. Reilly and Matt Fuller contributed reporting.