By Bob Barr
As the Adam Schiff-orchestrated impeachment debacle plays itself out on Capitol Hill amid intense media and public interest, just a few blocks away in a hushed federal courthouse, 67-year old political consultant Roger Stone — the man everyone loves to hate — is fighting a lonely battle against the federal government fixated on punishing him for doing what most every political consultant and candidate for public office routinely does.
Stone has made a living out of blustery, often exaggerated rhetoric; sometimes for himself and other times for his clients. That practice now places him at high risk of being incarcerated for the remainder of his natural life.
Stone’s career as a hard-edged political consultant began in the 1960s. In the 1980s he first advised Donald Trump, then a brash New York businessman, on how to navigate the turbulent waters of national politics.
Never one to shy away from controversy — instead often courting it — Stone in 2016 was a vocal supporter of candidate Trump. Even though he was not a member of the Trump campaign team, Stone’s razor-sharp political mind and his vast storehouse of political knowledge were valued by those directly aiding the then-candidate; and he maintained contacts with people in the campaign. In this he was not alone. Dozens, if not hundreds of individuals with political skills and who viewed Trump’s anti-establishment message and persona favorably, communicated with the Trump campaign; hardly fodder for a federal criminal indictment.
The release of emails by WikiLeaks damaging to the campaign of Hillary Clinton in the late summer of 2016, however, focused renewed attention on Stone and those associated with him. The Justice Department had become extremely interested — some might say, fixated — on finding out whether there were any links between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange.
During those tumultuous weeks of the 2016 campaign, the matter of email “dumps” and their real or perceived impact on the Clinton campaign, was a matter of constant discussion and speculation not only by the media, but by political consultants and pundits everywhere. Among those who communicated with others about the email disclosures, was Stone.
Unlike many of his colleagues, Stone never tried to hide his interest in the matter, and even appears to have engaged in a degree of exaggerating his ability to influence matters relating to the emails. He always asserted that he did not collaborate or coordinate any release of the emails with WikiLeaks; and voluntarily testified before Congress in this regard. The Department of Justice, however, believed otherwise and obtained an indictment against Stone for lying to the Congress. The government has pursued a tortured path in arriving at this conclusion.
No less a tainted witness than Trump’s convicted former lawyer, Michael Cohen, claims to have overheard a conversation between then-candidate Trump and Stone regarding the WikiLeaks disclosure. However, that allegation was never corroborated, and was in fact denied by Trump in his written answers to questions posed by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Additionally, the government alleged that Stone directed Jerome Corsi, a well-known “conspiratorialist” commentator, to attempt to find out about the timing of the WikiLeaks email dumps so as to assist the Trump campaign. Neither Stone nor Corsi ever confirmed the government’s suspicions; and despite threats to indict him if he did not plead guilty to lying in such regard, the Justice Department never pursued charges against Corsi.
In his testimony before Congress, Stone maintained that radio talk show host Randy Credico was his source for discussions about the timing of any WikiLeaks disclosures. The FBI has insisted Stone lied in this regard, and is attempting to so prove in the federal trial now unfolding in the nation’s Capital. The government has buttressed its case against Stone with allegations that he tried to dissuade Credico from testifying truthfully, and that he went so far as to threaten Credico with an almost comical reference to a scene from the 1974 “Godfather Part II” movie. The feds even claim Stone threatened Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca.
All this may sound like a bad movie script, but it is not. Stone was arrested earlier this year in the dead of night, by federal agents armed with automatic weapons. Now he is a defendant facing decades in prison. The charges against him stem from nothing more than — at worst — bragging and exaggerating his abilities to influence events in the political arena. There, but perhaps for the grace of God, go many other consultants, candidates, and office holders.