Donald Trump’s campaign viewed Roger Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and tried to use him to get advanced word about hacked e-mails damaging to Hillary Clinton that the anti-secrecy group released during the 2016 presidential race, a former top presidential adviser testified Friday.
In reluctant testimony, former campaign CEO Steve Bannon told a federal court that Mr. Stone, on trial for lying to Congress and witness tampering, had boasted about his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, alerting them to pending new batches of damaging e-mails.
“The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or to Julian Assange,” Mr. Bannon told the court. “But Roger would be considered if we needed an access point.”
It was the first time that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign acknowledged in court that they had actively sought material from WikiLeaks, which released material that U.S. intelligence agencies determined had been hacked by the Russian government in order to damage Clinton.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Mr. Stone, a colourful political operative and Trump ally, is charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about his attempts to contact WikiLeaks about the damaging material during the 2016 presidential campaign.
While Mr. Stone repeatedly “implied that he had a connection with WikiLeaks,” he never stated it directly, Mr. Bannon said.
The campaign took Mr. Stone’s boasts seriously enough to follow up, asking why expected information about Ms. Clinton wasn’t revealed when Mr. Assange held a news conference in October, 2016.
Mr. Bannon, who testified in response to a subpoena, did not say anything about Mr. Trump and said Mr. Stone had not been sent by anyone on the campaign to talk to Mr. Assange.
Earlier this week, a former FBI agent testified about a flurry of phone calls between Mr. Stone and then-candidate Mr. Trump – including three calls on July 14, 2016 – the day that a massive hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers was reported. But the agent said she did not know what was discussed on those calls.
As he left the courthouse, Mr. Bannon griped about being subpoenaed by prosecutors and Congress in addition to being interviewed several times by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as it investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“I was forced and compelled to come here today,” he said as he climbed into a waiting SUV outside the courthouse.
Mr. Bannon’s testimony came after comedian and radio talk show Randy Credico told jurors that Mr. Stone pressed him into backing up lies he told Congress, threatening to take away his dog at one point. Mr. Credico said Mr. Stone pressed him to “go along” with a false account of the operative’s contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
“He wanted me to go along with this narrative,” Mr. Credico said in his second day of testimony.
Mr. Stone called Mr. Credico a “rat” and a “stoolie” in a threatening April, 2018, e-mail. Mr. Credico also testified that Mr. Stone used repeated references from the movie The Godfather Part II to intimidate him into either backing up Mr. Stone’s testimony to Congress or refusing to testify.
“My lawyers are dying to rip you to shreds. I’m going to take that dog away from you,” he said in the e-mail, which Mr. Credico read aloud in court. And while Mr. Credico testified he considered the threat “hyperbole,” he also said that Mr. Stone “plays hardball” and “I did not want to rile the guy.”
The radio host told the court he’s had his dog Bianca, a small breed known as a coton de tulear, since 2006. “I have no wife, no kids, I’ve been around the dog for 12 years,” he said.
Mr. Credico has occasionally provoked laughter in court and warnings from the judge.
Thursday’s testimony detailed the acrimonious collapse of the relationship between the liberal Mr. Credico and Mr. Stone, a long-time conservative operative who revered Richard Nixon so much that he has the disgraced former president’s face tattooed on his back.
Mr. Credico and Mr. Stone met in 2002 through the campaign of a third-party candidate for New York governor. Despite their political differences, Mr. Stone was a regular guest on Mr. Credico’s radio show.
“He’s good on radio,” Mr. Credico said of Mr. Stone. “He’s a good guest to have on.”
Mr. Stone, a long-time Trump confidant and conservative operative, is accused of telling Congress that Mr. Credico was the source of his inside information about WikiLeaks. But Mr. Credico said he and Mr. Stone never discussed WikiLeaks before late August, 2016, making it impossible that he was the “trusted intermediary” that Mr. Stone had been referring to for months.
Mr. Credico did manage to contact Mr. Assange through mutual acquaintance Margaret Kunstler, and hosted Mr. Assange on his radio show on Aug. 25, 2016. He says Mr. Stone, who had already claimed in interviews to have a back-channel link to Mr. Assange, immediately started asking Mr. Credico to put him in touch with Assange.
Prosecutors have said Mr. Stone lied about his efforts to learn more about the WikiLeaks releases because the truth about his efforts would “look bad” for Mr. Trump.
In an often-testy cross examination, defence lawyer Robert Buschel tried to paint Mr. Stone as the victim of a con job by Mr. Credico, saying that the radio host repeatedly lied to Mr. Stone to exaggerate his connection and influence with Mr. Assange.
They went through the pair’s text exchanges before Mr. Credico’s September, 2016, trip to London. Mr. Credico wrote to Mr. Stone that a meeting with Mr. Assange, who was sheltering from prosecution in the Ecuadoran embassy, was “on the agenda.” In reality, there was no meeting planned and the closest Mr. Credico got to Mr. Assange was delivering a letter from his radio station’s administration to the embassy offering Mr. Assange a show on their channel.
Mr. Credico said Mr. Stone was pestering him with requests and that he led Mr. Stone to believe he was working on making contact with Mr. Assange “just to satisfy him and get him off my back.”
Mr. Stone’s trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
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