A longtime Donald Trump confidant said Friday he is unfazed by calls for a federal investigation into allegations he’s colluding with WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
In an interview with POLITICO, Roger Stone said the FBI hasn’t contacted him to discuss his relationship with WikiLeaks and a series of anti-Clinton public statements that Democrats interpret as evidence he was well aware of the hacking into campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account.
“I have not” heard from the FBI, Stone said. “But I’d be happy to cooperate if they decided to call me.”
Stone, a longtime GOP operative and one of the youngest members of Richard Nixon’s infamous 1972 reelection bid, has taken on an outsized role in the murky world of the WikiLeaks documents thanks to his personal boasts of having regular contact with the group’s founder, Julian Assange, through “mutual friends.”
Several months ago, Stone predicted an October surprise that would disrupt Clinton’s campaign and his recent Twitter posts suggested Podesta would soon be facing scandal, including an August update stating, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary”
Speaking to reporters earlier this week on Clinton’s airplane, Podesta confirmed he’d spoken to the FBI on Sunday as it probed the criminal hack into his email and he leveled a charge that Stone had “advance knowledge” of the document leaks.
Stone’s comments, combined with a swirl of additional controversies surrounding the role of other former Trump advisers with ties to Russia have prompted several Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, to request a wider federal investigation into some of the people who have been in the GOP nominee’s orbit.
On Friday, the top Democrats on four House committees repeated a request for the FBI to investigate the connections between Trump’s presidential campaign and the alleged Russian hacks of Democratic organizations and figures, citing new comments from Stone.
"Troubling new evidence appears to show that the Trump campaign not only was aware of cyberattacks against Secretary Clinton’s campaign chairman, but was openly bragging about it as far back as August," wrote the congressmen, Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, John Conyers of Michigan, Eliot Engel of New York and Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
Also Friday, former Acting CIA Director Mike Morell said during a conference call organized by the Clinton campaign that several of the GOP nominee’s former staffers “may be in this more deeply and may have relationships with Russia, perhaps financial relationships or other relationships and they’re working on behalf of the Russians to get this material out and spread this around.”
“I don’t want to go overboard and say we know for sure, but I’m deeply concerned about it. It requires a full investigation and it requires the American people to know the truth here before Election Day,” Morell said.
On the call, Morell specifically named Stone, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Carter Page, an investment banker who Trump in an interview with the Washington Post editorial board once described as a foreign policy adviser. CNN reported in August that the FBI and Justice Department had already opened a broad investigation that covers alleged corruption of the pro-Russian former president of Ukraine and his ties to Manafort.
Yahoo News, meanwhile, reported last month U.S. intelligence officials were looking into Page’s meetings with Russian officials where the adviser allegedly discussed lifting sanctions on the country if Trump won the White House. Page, who the Trump campaign says is not connected to the Republican nominee, wrote FBI Director James Comey last month asking him to put a “prompt end” to any inquiry looking into his ties to Russia, according to a letter first published by the Washington Post.
Officially, the FBI has refrained from giving any public signals that it’s investigating any of the Trump associates. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month, for example, Rep. Jerry Nadler singled out Stone for his acknowledged ties to Assange and the operative’s comments acknowledging the prospective leaks of the hacked documents. The New York Democrat then asked if Comey if his investigators had conducted any interviews with Stone.
“I don’t want to confirm whether there is or is not an investigation,” the FBI director replied, declining any additional comment.
But several current and former officials who have worked in the Justice Department, FBI and intelligence community said they have little doubt federal law enforcement is looking into the different questions surrounding the different current and one-time Trump campaign operatives. After all, Podesta confirmed he’s spoken with the FBI as part of its examination into his email hack. And last Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and director of national intelligence James Clapper issued an unprecedented statement signaling with high confidence that the Russian government was trying to meddle in the U.S. presidential election via cyber espionage.
“The way that DOJ works, once they start looking at something they don’t look at very narrow discrete questions when there are other related questions swirling around. They try to get the rest of the picture,” said Matthew Miller, a former Obama administration Justice Department spokesman. “It stands to reason,” he added, “they’d already be investigating the Trump campaign.”
A current Justice Department official agreed with the outlines of that assessment.
"You follow the evidence and the evidence leads you to wherever it takes you," the DOJ staffer told POLITICO. "That is how the investigation into the recent breaches will be done. You gather the pieces of the puzzle and put them together."
"Sometimes it leads to a guy in his basement. Sometimes it leads you to the People’s Liberation Army [in China]. And sometimes it leads you to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” the DOJ source added.
Multiple sources with a law enforcement background explained that the FBI — if it was investigating Stone or others — would likely still be in an evidence collection stage and nowhere near the point where they were ready to publicly question him, especially on a politically sensitive topic so close to Election Day.
“There’s no way they’d do that before the election,” said Jim Garland, a former senior Obama DOJ official who served as then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s deputy chief of staff. But given the series of Stone’s public remarks and familiarity with the WikiLeaks troves, Garland predicted the operative should expect a call. “Without a doubt he’s earned himself a subpoena.”
Stone, meantime, pushed back in the interview on the Democrats’ demands for an investigation into his ties to the WikiLeaks saga, calling his accusers “partisan hacks with not a leg to stand on.”
“No, I don’t work for the Russians. I don’t work for the Russian intelligence. I have no Russian clients. I’ve not received any money from Russia directly or indirectly. It’s a dead end,” he said. “I’ve spent my entire political career as an anti-communist.”
Stone explained that he’s neither met nor spoken with Assange and he insisted that he’s played no role in the release of the hacked documents.
“I’m not orchestrating the activities or disclosures of WikiLeaks,” Stone said.
As for the hacked emails to date that have been released — a mish-mash of thousands of messages that included the first glimpses into Clinton’s private Wall Street speeches and tense personal battles inside the Clinton Foundation – Stone said what’s out so far is just “small potatoes compared to what I’m told is coming.”
Asked if he was concerned that the document dumps would lose their punch with the public if they continued surfacing in small batches each day through the end of the campaign, Stone replied, “I have a greater concern that certain media outlets have lost their journalistic objectivity. They’ll bury stories they won’t like or not report them at all.”
The WikiLeaks trove to date has only covered Clinton operatives, and the Democratic nominee’s campaign has declined to comment on the veracity of the emails. While Stone said he’d encourage the publication of documents pertaining to Trump or his campaign, he said he doubted they’d find anything incriminating because the real estate mogul doesn’t use e-mail. “All they’d learn,” Stone said, “is the inner workings of a real estate company.”
Bryan Bender and Tim Starks contributed to this report.