Roger Stone, the famed political consultant, seems to have played a role in every major conservative moment in the past half century. And if there’s one quality that’s defined his long career in politics, it’s that he’s prone to scandal of his own making.
Enter Robert Mueller. On Friday morning, the special counsel indicted the former lobbyist and longtime Donald Trump ally, charging that he lied to Congress and obstructed the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Though the criminal charges are a first for Stone, he’s used to controversy: One of the pioneers of opposition research, the self-described “dirty trickster” and Richard Nixon acolyte has built his reputation on a combative, conspiracy-theory-laden brand of politics. Here, a brief history of Stone’s political mischief-making:
1972: Stone joins the Committee to Re-elect the President
Stone got his start in politics at the tender age of 19, when, as a campaign aide for President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee, he donated to Pete McCloskey, one of Nixon’s Republican-primary opponents, on behalf of the Young Socialist Alliance, an organization that advocated leftist politics and was avidly against the Vietnam War. Stone then leaked news of the “donation” to the press to make it appear as if Nixon’s opponent were in bed with socialists. Later, in the general election, Stone hired a Republican operative to spy on the campaign of George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee.
1976–80: Stone works on Ronald Reagan’s two presidential campaigns
In 1976, Stone joined Reagan’s first failed presidential bid, working as his “youth director.” The following year, at 24 years old, Stone was elected chairman of the Young Republicans, a political organization for conservatives ages 18 to 40. The chairmanship had clout in conservative circles; the Young Republicans’ support was crucial to Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination in 1964. Stone’s friend from the College Republicans, Paul Manafort, managed his campaign. Decades later, Manafort would become chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, and would also be indicted by the special counsel. Both men were from Connecticut, and as our colleague Franklin Foer wrote last March, they shared “an affection for finely tailored power suits, and a deeper love of power itself.”
By 1980, Stone had made crucial contacts in Reaganworld, and coordinated the Reagan campaign’s efforts in the Northeast that year, during the California governor’s second run at the White House. He worked closely with the Reagan adviser Roy Cohn.
1980: Stone meets Donald Trump
Cohn introduced Stone to his friend and protégé Donald Trump, then a private businessman. At Stone’s urging, Trump, who was in his 30s, became a major donor to Reagan’s second presidential campaign. The two men hit it off—the start of a tumultuous relationship that spanned both business and politics over the next three decades.
1980: Stone helps establish a lobbying firm with Manafort
After Reagan won the White House, Stone founded one of Washington’s first major lobbying firms with friends from his Young Republicans and campaign days: Charles Black and Manafort. As Foer has written, Black, Manafort, and Stone pioneered a new type of influence peddling that was hardball and morally dubious. One of their first clients: Trump and the Trump Organization, his family business.
1998–99: Stone helps Trump lay the groundwork for his first presidential bid
Trump had been toying with the idea of running for president for more than a decade, but in 1998 he decided to take some concrete steps. The first: asking Stone to find “the most eminent hack writer in America” to ghostwrite a book for him.
The next year, when Trump explored a bid for president as a member of the Reform Party, he chose Stone to head his exploratory committee. In later years, Trump would downplay Stone’s role in the campaign. “He always tries taking credit for things he never did,” Trump told The New Yorker in 2008. Nonetheless, Stone remained an adviser and confidant of Trump for the next decade.
2007: Stone is caught threatening the elderly father of a political rival
Stone was forced to resign from a position consulting for New York State’s then–Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno after allegations emerged that he left an intimidating voicemail for the 83-year-old father of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. In the anonymous voicemail, he threatened to prosecute the elder Spitzer if he didn’t implicate his son in illegal activity. Stone denied leaving the message, but those who know him have identified his voice on the recording. “They caught Roger red-handed lying,” Trump said in the 2008 New Yorker profile. “What he did was ridiculous and stupid. I lost respect for Eliot Spitzer when he didn’t sue Roger Stone for doing that to his father, who is a wonderful man.”
2008: Stone establishes an anti–Hillary Clinton group
Stone founded the anti–Hillary Clinton political organization Citizens United Not Timid, whose title was intended to spell out an obscene acronym, during the 2008 presidential election. A 527, the organization could solicit unlimited contributions under the guise of “issue education.” In a 2008 interview with The Weekly Standard, Stone said, “The truth is, we sat around for hours trying to come up with words for BITCH and just couldn’t do it.”
2011: Stone tries to insert himself into Trump’s potential 2012 bid
After Stone insinuated to Politico that he had inside information about a second Trump presidential run, Trump told the publication that Stone did not represent him and was not an official campaign adviser—though, Trump said, he “greatly appreciates his flattering comments.” Trump ultimately did not run for president, but did rejoin the Republican Party.
2012: Stone announces he’s a libertarian
In February 2012, Stone announced that he was leaving the GOP for the Libertarian Party. By June, he had launched a super PAC to raise money for the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Stone, who supports gay rights and marijuana legalization, briefly considered running as a candidate for Florida governor in 2014, but ultimately focused instead on campaigning for a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the state.
2015: The Trump campaign hires Stone
As speculation swirled that Trump was considering another presidential run, Stone became an informal adviser to his longtime associate, eventually joining Trump’s official campaign. In a moment of high political drama, Trump fired Stone in August 2015 for being a “publicity seeker,” but Stone continued to support the candidate’s election efforts. In a December 2015 interview with the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, which was set up by Stone, Trump called his longtime associate “a good guy … so loyal and so wonderful.”
March 2016: The Trump campaign hires the Stone associate Paul Manafort
Months after Stone left the Trump campaign, the team hired Manafort. According to some reports, Manafort came highly recommended by Stone, who at this point had known and worked with him on and off for four decades. Manafort was later fired by the campaign after questions surfaced about his ties to pro-Russian business interests in Ukraine.
July–October 2016: Stone tries to get his hands on information that would damage the Clinton campaign
One year after officially leaving the Trump team, Stone made several moves that eventually put him on the radar of Robert Mueller.
In the months just before the 2016 presidential election, WikiLeaks published thousands of emails hacked from the account of the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and from the servers of the Democratic National Committee. Stone, who had been trying to find damaging material on Clinton from multiple sources, had sent a series of tweets predicting such a release about the Clinton campaign. “Julian Assange will deliver a devastating expose on Hillary at a time of his choosing,” he wrote in one message. “I stand by my prediction.”
Both WikiLeaks and Stone denied that they had ever been in contact with each other, but Twitter messages obtained by The Atlantic show otherwise. Stone also told Sam Nunberg, another Trump-campaign associate, that he’d had dinner with Assange. He later claimed he had been joking.
August 2018: Manafort is convicted
After months of back-and-forth with Mueller’s team and a highly publicized trial, Manafort was convicted of eight felonies, including tax and bank-fraud charges, connected to his dealings with pro-Russian interests. While he initially agreed to a plea deal in exchange for his cooperation with the special counsel, Mueller withdrew Manafort’s plea deal in November, writing in court filings that Manafort had been “lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the special counsel’s office on a variety of subject matters.”
2019: A grand jury indicts Stone on charges brought by the special counsel
On Friday, a grand jury indicted Stone on charges brought by Mueller, who alleges that Stone coordinated with WikiLeaks to receive emails that could damage Clinton. He was charged on seven counts, including witness tampering, making false statements, and obstruction of an official proceeding. The FBI arrested him before dawn on Friday at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and he was released on $250,000 bond later in the morning.
Stone’s lawyer told The New York Times that the charges were “ridiculous” and that “this is all about a minor charge about lying to Congress about something that was apparently found later.”
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