Whether or not Trump, his campaign or his allies colluded with Russia in the country’s effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential election depends on who knew what. One key piece of information is whether anyone in the Trump orbit knew about Democratic emails which, according to U.S. intelligence, were hacked by Russia and later released by Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Advanced knowledge would have allowed Trump or his associates to coordinate the release of the emails for maximum effect.
Ultimately, the emails of former Hillary Clinton chair John Podesta began to be released on the same day the infamous Access Hollywood tape was published, raising suspicions that the timing was not accidental.
A potential conduit for information about the hacked email is longtime Trump political adviser Roger Stone. During the campaign, Stone repeatedly bragged about communications with Assange and seemed to predict the release of hacked emails by Wikileaks on Twitter. Since then, Stone has offered increasingly inscrutable and unlikely explanations for his public and private comments.
Stone admitted he said he talked with Assange, now claims it was a joke
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Stone told an unnamed associate in the spring of 2016 that Julian Assange told Stone that WikiLeaks had acquired emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. The organization did not release those emails until late July, and then again in September of 2016.
Another Stone associate, prominent Stone acolyte and former Trump staffer Sam Nunberg, told the Post that Stone said he had met with Assange.
Stone told the Washington Post that his comment to Nunberg was a joke which he used to end a phone conversation. “I wish him no ill will, but Sam can manically and persistently call you … I said, ‘I think I will go to London for the weekend and meet with Julian Assange.’ It was a joke, a throwaway line to get him off the phone. The idea that I would meet with Assange undetected is ridiculous on its face.'”
Stone did not explain why telling someone “I think I will go to London for the weekend and meet with Julian Assange” is an effective way to end a phone conversation or address whether he could have communicated with Assange through the telephone or other means.
Stone said he communicated with Assange through an intermediary, now claims no information was exchanged
In August 2016, Stone told current NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch, that he had communicated with Julian Assange. “I was very specific in that I said that I had communicated with Mr. Assange, that I never said that I met with him or that I spoke with him. We have a mutual acquaintance that is a fine gentleman. I happen to be one who thinks that Assange is a hero.”
This conflicts with several of Stone’s prior denials of contact with Assange, and happened before the hacked emails became public.
In October 2016, Stone told CBS 4 Miami, “I do have a back-channel communication with Assange, because we have a good mutual friend. That friend travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk. I had dinner with him last Monday.”
In March 2017, Stone tweeted — and later deleted — that he had a “perfectly legal back channel to Assange.”
Asked about the CBS Miami interview, Stone later said he never communicated with Wikileaks.
Stone eventually told the House Intelligence Committee that the intermediary was New York Radio host Randy Credico. In a rambling Facebook post, Stone claimed that Credico merely “confirmed” things that Assange had been saying publicly.
Stone appeared to predict the release of the emails on Twitter, now offers incoherent explanation
On October 2, 2016, Stone tweeted, “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done #Wikileaks.”
Days later, WikiLeaks released the first collection of hacked emails from Podesta’s gmail account.
In testimony before Congress, Stone said that his first tweet did not refer to Podesta’s email, but rather “the Podesta brothers’ business activities in Russia with the oligarchs around Putin, their uranium deal, their bank deal, would come under public scrutiny.” Stone noted that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chair, resigned because of his business dealings in Ukraine, and “I thought it manifestly unfair that John Podesta not be held to the same standard.”
In the same testimony about the second tweet, Stone said, “I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange. … I have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist.”
Yet the “business activities in Russia” that Stone mentions revolve around John Podesta’s brother Tony, who has a lobbying firm which has faced scrutiny for lobbying work done in Ukraine. It’s hard to believe that Stone’s tweet about Podesta’s “time in the barrel” refers to the brother of for former Clinton campaign chair, however. John Podesta has not been involved in his brother’s firm for over 15 years. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which John Podesta founded.)
Stone’s reference to “their uranium deal” is a callback to a fake news story which claimed that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian-owned company to obtain 20 percent of U.S. uranium deposits while the company donated to the Clinton Foundation. It’s not true, and it didn’t involve Podesta.
Moreover, the story and the facts debunking the claims had already been reported, so it makes no sense that Stone would be teasing old news.
All of this contradicts Stone’s earlier excuse which was that he predicted the release of the Podesta emails because he was clairvoyant.
Stone suggested that he was able to anticipate the release of hacked emails because he was “clairvoyant.”
Since I never communicated with WikiLeaks, I guess I must be innocent of charges I knew about the hacking of Podesta’s email (speculation and conjecture) and the timing or scope of their subsequent disclosures. So I am clairvoyant or just a good guesser because the limited things I did predict (Oct disclosures) all came true.
Stone also communicated with Wikileaks secretly, though public reports of those communications are only of messages sent after the hacked emails were released. There are reports from The Atlantic, which obtained screenshots of Stone’s Twitter direct messages, that Stone and WikiLeaks communicated directly as early as October 13, 2016, after the emails had been released. It’s not clear if they communicated beforehand. After the election, WikiLeaks told Stone, “Happy? We are now more free to communicate.” Stone also communicated directly with a Twitter user identified as Guccifer 2.0, who claimed to have hacked Democrats’ email accounts. U.S. officials believe this account to be a front for Russian military intelligence.