So, Roger Stone. Lots of things we can call him: Agent of chaos. Champion ratfucker. Longtime friend of Donald Trump. Maybe-FBI-informant (though he staunchly denies it). At the moment, Stone is a little bit more defensive, given his current situation as a not-yet-indicted – yet likely – target of one part of the Mueller probe, which has so far subpoenaed three of his close associates. Always the pugilist, Stone says he's fully prepared to be indicted.
I spoke with Roger Stone by phone Monday morning. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
How have you survived so long in this game as a dirty trickster? You’re always just on that thin line.
You can call me a dirty trickster, you can call me a prankster, you can call me anything you'd like. I've never done anything that hasn't been done by my contemporaries in the political strategist business. I do fight hard for my clients, but I've never crossed the line into illegal activity, and I most certainly did not do so in 2016, either.
Have you ever been on the government payroll?
Never. Well, that's not true. I very briefly worked at the office of Economic Opportunity under Donald Rumsfeld when Richard Nixon was president. I was there less than six months and I quickly realized that I had no interest in government. My interest is in politics and the art of politics. It's not in, you know, government wonkery.
Never worked with the FBI?
I've never been an informant or worked in any way with the government – including the FBI, the CIA or anyone else. Perhaps you're confusing me with Stefan Halper.
You're regarded as a master of the dark arts. What's your rule for staying on the right side of the law?
I've just written a book on this subject called Stone's Rules: How to Win at Politics, Business and Style, which is essentially my operating manual. Yes, I know how to get good political opposition research, how to obtain it perfectly legally, and how to introduce that information to the voters in a convincing and compelling way. Politics ain't beanbag, and it's not for the faint-hearted. I conduct a political campaign as if it is war.
But to speak to the current situation, having come up empty-handed in the search for any Russian collusion on my part, having come up empty-handed on any claim that I was trafficking in allegedly hacked emails with Wikileaks or Julian Assange, having come up completely empty-handed in the claim that I knew about the obtaining and publication of John Podesta's emails in advance ... I now believe that it's entirely possible that the special counsel will conjure up some extraneous offense in an effort to silence me.
I think the reason I'm a target is because I'm flamboyant. I am out there on Infowars, on The Daily Caller, on Fox everyday, and I have pointed out the illegitimacy and the partisanship and the bully-tactics of the Mueller investigation. I have picked out his goals, which is nothing short of the removal of a duly elected president, and therefore this could be an effort to silence me.
You said Mueller might try to indict you for something pertaining to your businesses. What do you mean by that?
We know that a federal prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich. They have an amazing ability to take nothing and say it is something. I have a clear conscience regarding my businesses, my taxes, the conduct of my personal affairs. But I understand a runaway federal prosecutor with unlimited powers and no checks or balances can bring any indictment they want. Uh, you know, they could fabricate some offense by me. Three people were arrested wrongly in the anthrax scandal by Mr. Mueller several years ago. It happens. People were indicted in the Whitey Bulger matter by Mueller – they were innocent.
Several of your associates have been subpoenaed by the Mueller investigation. Does this worry you?
None of my associates – current or former – have any knowledge of wrongdoing on my part because there is none and therefore I am not concerned. I do think it unfair that they now require legal representation and have to bear the expense of lawyers when they have no material knowledge that would be valuable to prosecutors.
Let’s talk Wikileaks: Who do you think Julian Assange is?
I think he's a journalist.
I think he does exactly what The Washington Post does.
Come on, do you really?
He's a journalist! He does the same thing you do! He does the same thing The Washington Post does! You liked him when he was exposing the Bush administration. You just don't like him now that he's exposed Hillary Clinton for being the craven, corrupt witch that she is.
What’s an interview with you without the inevitable Hillary-as-witch remark? But, this is about Assange. The leaks Assange seems most interested in promoting tend to pertain to corruption in the U.S. and the U.K., probably his least favorite countries. But there’s a lot of corruption to go around. Russian oligarchs, the Putin regime...
Are Russian oligarchs violating our current constitutional rights the way this government is?
If Assange was an impartial journalist, why would it matter? An impartial agenda means a willingness to expose or go after anyone. Assange has, I’d say, a more selective agenda.
His agenda is truth. His agenda is truth. If you have some proof that he's working for the Russians, produce it. Prove it. You have none.
Let me ask you about Paul Manafort. He was in debt. He gets involved with the Trump campaign, and he offers to work for free. This was the spring of 2016, when there wasn't even a thought that Trump was going to win, so what was in it for him?
Well, let's see. He got involved because he has presidential campaign politics in his blood. Just because you thought Trump couldn't win, we always thought he could win and we've had—
We. Donald Trump supporters.
Why offer to do it for free?
Because he would be smart enough to realize that if Donald Trump was elected and he was associated with that successful election, it would provide certain perfectly legal economic opportunities.
What was the real reason Manafort left the campaign?
He left because of a false New York Times story that alleges that a ledger was found that detailed elicit payments to him in legitimate work that he did in the Ukrainian election. It's highly probable that that ledger was the work of Ukrainian intelligence, but that controversy caused him to leave.
Manafort left not long after Steve Bannon and billionaire Robert Mercer's money came into the mix. Do you think it had anything to do with that?
I think the Mercers were there with a solution at a time where Manafort's leaving created a vacuum. Steve Bannon is a nice fellow. He knows nothing whatsoever about electoral politics, and it looks to me as though he chases down hobos to get their clothing. Perhaps he should become acquainted with hot water and soap and a razor.
Why do you think Trump is scared of you?
He has no reason to be afraid of me. I'm one of his strongest and most loyal supporters.
When was the last time you spoke to him?
It's been a while now. I presume that his lawyers have instructed him not to speak to me until … the matter of Russian collusion is resolved. He has sent me a message through mutual friends that he loves me and is thinking of me and that he wants to know how I am doing, and I send back the message that I think he's doing great. Four percent economic growth this quarter, I believe. That's pretty amazing.
I guess you can’t complain about your investments.
I can, because in all honesty, this inquisition between the lawsuits and the Mueller inquiry, I've gotta dip into my grandchildren's college education fund. I had things set up so that the proceeds from my book sales – and the book sales have done pretty well – would pay to put them through college. I now have to use that money for legal fees, which comes to the central point: The New York Times reported on January 20th, 2017, that I was the subject of a FISA warrant. A FISA warrant can only be obtained against a U.S. citizen if they're actively involved in espionage on behalf of a foreign power. There is no way that I meet that criteria, which means that the FISA warrant in question was obtained for political purposes. The New York Times has not retracted and will not retract that story. They stand by it. Several reporters are people I know who I think are good honest reporters, and they say it is very solidly sourced. If some, you know, charge is brought against me, if some defense is fabricated, we're going to get to the question immediately of why I was surveilled.
You were on a crusade during the campaign to whip up outrage on behalf of the women that claimed Bill Clinton had sexually harassed them. What about the 19 or 20 women who have made similar allegations against Donald Trump? No outrage?
First of all, most of the information you cite came public after the election. There were some allegations—
Some came forward before the election.
Right, and then they scheduled a press conference for which they didn't show up – how credible is that?
As soon as the Access Hollywood tape came out, there was a deluge of statements and interviews and a few press conferences, by different women. They were about as out there as you could be.
And guess what? No one cares.
No one cares. It really bothers you, doesn't it? No one cares.
I’m curious why it doesn’t bother you. You claim to hate hypocrisy. If you think people really care about whatever Bill Clinton allegedly did with women, why wouldn’t they care about what Donald Trump allegedly did with women? I frankly don't know the answer to this, and I’m curious.
Janet, neither do I. You're asking me to explain the human condition. Why is Donald Trump's strongest group evangelical Christians? Why have they seen these charges and they just don't care? I can't tell you the reason.
I know the answer to that one, and so do you.
There's a certain cognitive dissonance among some of these voters. Without the benefit of intense survey research and polling, to examine the question, I can't tell you why they don't care. I can only tell you they don't. The president's approval rating continues to climb, there seems to be no erosion in his base of support. They don't care.
Who worries you the most, besides Jeff Sessions?
Who's there now that really worries you?
I am concerned about the neo-cons. Dina Habib Powell. Why would you have appointed her? The president fires neo-cons. He replaces them with other neo-cons. Donald Trump ran for president as an anti-interventionist. He ran as an anti-war candidate. He ran saying that he would end the war in Syria, end the war in Afghanistan. I am sorely disappointed that he has not done that. It is not incidental that when he tweeted, three weeks ago, roughly, that he wanted to get our troops out of Syria, the Deep State cooked up, yet again, another phony gas attack. No, I'm sorry. I don't believe Assad used chemical weapons on his own people twice. I don't believe it.
What about John Bolton?
I think he's an enormously able guy. I think he's very capable. I would like to believe that he realizes his role is to reflect the views of the president, but his position more recently regarding Syria is disappointing to me. Very disappointing.
Do you think the president has fixed views? Do you think he has actual conviction?
I don't think he's an ideologue. I think he's pragmatic. I think that he has a good sense of politics and a good sense of public relations. I think he's got big-picture views. He thinks we should seal our borders. I agree with him on that. He thinks that we have wasted millions of dollars and American lives in pointless foreign wars. I agree with him on that. I wish he would enact it in his policies. But yes, I think he's more of a populist than he is an ideological conservative. Look, this is a guy who said in a Playboy interview 15 years ago that the war on drugs was an ignominious failure, and that drugs should be legalized.
The White House is currently reviewing a proposal to cut funds for any health clinic that does abortion referrals. That’s beyond cutting the funding for abortion clinics; that’s cutting funding for clinics that simply provide patients information on where they might legally get this procedure. That is a highly ideological stance.
It certainly appears to be inconsistent with his previous views. On the other hand, I do think it's entirely possible, in fact, I think likely, that his views shifted after the birth of his youngest child, because of a conversation that I once had with him in which he said to me that his views on abortion had changed because, as he put it, 'I had a friend, and this friend and his third wife had a baby late in his life and that baby had had difficulties.' And that baby changed his views. And it occurred to me that the person he was probably talking about was himself. And when I said, 'Well, if that's you you're talking about, and that's how you feel, you ought to say that.' He said, 'No, no, it's not me.' Well, maybe it was him. I don't know.
One of your rules is ‘Deny, deny, deny.’ Why should we believe anything you say?
Well, there's a difference between the realm of a political campaign and a judicial realm. I have said consistently, for two years, that I had no advance notice of the content, source or exact disclosure schedule for the Wikileaks material regarding the DNC or Hillary Clinton. I have said that I had no advance notice of the publication of John Podesta's emails. I have said that I had no information or involvement in conspiracy or collusion or coordination with the Russian state. No one has produced any evidence to the contrary because there is none. If somebody has proof to the contrary, they should produce it. I testified for almost five hours in front of the House Intelligence Committee, contrary to what Adam Schiff says. My testimony was entirely truthful. And I turned over all documents that met their document request, which was very, very specific. So I should be believed because there is no evidence to the contrary that I should not be believed on these issues.
Well, here’s one thing: During the summer of 2016, you made several statements that indicated that you did think the Russians were quite interested in Donald Trump. Then you completely walked that back.
I do think that the Russians may have preferred Trump because they didn't want a thermo-nuclear war over Syria. I don't want one either. Hillary had called for a no-fly zone. To me, that was an open invitation for World War III. I'm sorry; I don't see our inherent national interests in Syria. I'm not a war hawk. I don't think we should go to war over Syria. I certainly never said the Russians were actively involved in trying to help in the election of Donald Trump. He did not need the help of the Russian state to defeat Hillary Clinton. The old media favored her, the new media favored her, and he won a most improbable victory.
You said there's a reason Russians are probably leaking this information, because they don't want a nuclear war.
I think the Russians are pretty canny. I think they play both sides. They certainly gave Hillary and Bill $145 million from the Russian-owned energy company at a time when the Uranium One acquisition was on the table with the State Department. I'd call that Russian collusion, wouldn't you?
This is about Trump. You said several times that it was not far-fetched to think the Russians were trying to help Trump with these emails. “Maybe the Russians are acting in their own best interest in this sense,” is how you phrased it on August 1st.
You know, here's a confession: Sometimes I'm wrong, and I'm also entitled to change my mind as I get new facts. If anybody has proof...that I colluded with the Russians or that I received anything whatsoever from Wikileaks or the Russians and passed it on to Donald Trump, let them produce it. It does not exist.
Then, on August 4th, you unequivocally walked everything back and said the Russians had nothing to do with the leaked emails. How come?
In politics, people use bluffs and posturing all the time.
What is bluff and posturing about that?
That was an opinion at the time, and one that I changed. Let me say it again, get my words exactly: If you have proof that—
What changed your mind?
If you have proof, then produce it.
I’m simply asking what changed your mind.
What did you do two years ago? I don't recall. Where were you on May 18th, 2015? I don't recall. I'm entitled.
I don't recall.