Clad in an English-tailored suit and clutching a Louis Vuitton bag, Republican operative Roger Stone spent three hours in front of House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday defending himself from allegations he colluded with Russian officials. “We had a very frank exchange,” he told reporters afterwards. “I answered all of the questions.”
Except he didn’t.
“Among the most significant questions he refused to answer,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said. “The chair of the investigation [Congressman Mike Conaway] and myself are in agreement that his refusal to answer in terms of his contacts with Wikileaks will not be permitted to stand. We gave him the opportunity to come in voluntarily. He said he was going to answer every question but didn’t.”
The investigation into Stone’s role in potential Russian collusion hinges in part on two tweets he sent out in late August and October which seemed to predict that John Podesta’s emails would be hacked and released via Wikileaks – which, according to U.S. intelligence, has worked in concert with Russian hackers.
Stone claims that his two tweets were referring not to the impending release of emails but rather the “Podesta brothers’ business activities in Russia.” But when examined closely Stone’s alibi quickly falls apart, since virtually none of the deals he mentions have anything to do with John Podesta at all.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) said that Stone’s excuse for saying it would soon be Podesta’s “time in the barrel” was shaky, at best. “It defies comprehension and belief all these things could have happened circumstantially,” he told CNN. “I’d like to see copies of his social media contacts and his phone records. He needs to say under oath that he never emailed, texted, or otherwise communicated.”
The main question which Stone refused to answer had to do with whether or not he communicated directly with Julian Assange and Wikileaks, which he has previously bragged about being able to do, or whether he did so through an intermediary. Either way, Schiff wants to get to the bottom of it.
“At times he has bragged about directly communicating with Julian Assange and at other times he said he did it through an intermediary,” Rep. Schiff said. “We obviously have a deep interest if there was an intermediary who that is and bring them before the Committee and find out what conversations they had with Julian Assange.”
Roger Stone maintains that he only spoke to Assange via that “mutual friend,”and admitted that he didn’t answer the one question from the Committee about who he was. His reasoning was that this person was a journalist that he spoke to off-the-record. “I’m not going to burn somebody who I spoke to off-the-record,” he said, without permission.
Both Stone and Assange have cultivated connections with a series of provocative and conspiratorial media figures. Stone is a regular contributor to Alex Jones’ Infowars – and also once wrote a book that claimed Chelsea Clinton got four plastic surgeries to hide her real father’s identity. Assange’s Wikileaks, meanwhile, has been judged by U.S. intelligence to have “actively collaborate[d]” with “The Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet RT (formerly Russia Today)”.
Despite Stone’s calm press conference demeanor in wake of his testimony, congressional investigators are now weighing a subpoena in order to get the full story from Stone. “If he can [cooperate fully] in a relatively quick time-frame turnaround, then we won’t need it,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) told ABC News. “But if he can’t get that done I’ll discuss with Mr. Schiff what our next steps will be.”