Political operator, gadfly, Infowars correspondent, and Trump ally Roger Stone is appearing before Congress to discuss the Russia investigation. It is not Stone’s first appearance before the majesty of the law, and will not be his last.
According to CNN:
President Donald Trump’s longtime confidante Roger Stone accused lawmakers of making “falsehoods, misstatements, and misimpressions” with allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during his appearance before a congressional panel on Tuesday. ... Following his meeting, Stone said he had a “frank exchange” and described the preceding as “an entirely political exercise.”
Of course, Stone claimed he had little direct knowledge of the Russia hookup, and said he knew nothing of Podesta’s tragic email leak. Investigators believe (or seem to believe) that Russia masterminded the hack—that said data was handed over to Wikileaks—and that Stone (or parties known to Stone) orchestrated a digital burglary. Stone claimed in August of 2016 that he had been in contact with Wikileaks’ Assange through various backchannels, and allegedly had forewarning of the Podesta reveal. In March, Stone discussed his contact with the hacker Guccifer 2, which he claims happened only after the DNC emails were leaked.
That’s the background. The confrontation today was private, but from all accounts, it was a rough-hewn three hours of back and forth. Stone’s most recent nemesis, Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the panel, claimed there was a single area of testimony where Stone had been especially recalcitrant. Schiff threatened to subpoena Stone if matters came to a head.
Schiff declined to say what question Stone wouldn’t answer, but Stone himself told reporters: he wouldn’t divulge the person who acted as his go-between with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last year. Stone has come under scrutiny for seeming to predict Wikileaks’ October dump of emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta. ... “I expressed my view that I’m aware of no evidence whatsoever of collusion by the Russian state or anyone in the Trump campaign or anyone associated with Donald Trump,” Stone told reporters. He said he had not communicated with Trump about the testimony. “I’m not even sure he is aware that I am testifying today.”
Before he made his way up the Hill, Stone published a baffling, forty-seven page screed about his involvement with Trump and his White House. As my friend Ian messaged me, “It says he released a 47-page statement, but it is double-spaced and in like 16 pt font. This honky in like 7th grade or something. Left and right margin justified. It’s like every trick in the book, like Trump gave him a 47-page minimum or something. Most of it is copy/pasted from elsewhere.”
I close-read it. He was right. The tone of the piece was refined petulance. It smacked of barely-contain rage, like a Facebook post fulminating against fake friends and haters. The insider claimed to be away from it all. The phrasing was familiar. It was Reddit, all too Reddit:
I recognize that because of my long reputation and experience as a partisan warrior, I am a suitable scapegoat for those who would seek to persuade the public that there were wicked, international transgressions in the 2016 presidential election.
“I recognize because of my long history of calling for ethics in gaming journalism I arouse reactions ... ”
I understand the Committee’s interest in me, I use all clauses of the 1st Amendment to achieve my goals, I am out there, I am provocative and partisan, but let’s be clear, I have no involvement in the alleged activities that are within the publicly stated scope of this Committee’s investigation -collusion with the Russian state to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.
In himself, Stone is unlikely to topple this regime. But Stone’s strange association with the Donald highlights how unusual our political world has become in the Age of the Orange God.
Commenters on the Trump years—including yours truly—keep repeating that Trump is a reality show contestant or clown. We tend to note this with surprise, with shock and awe. It baffles us. We treat Trump in the White House as if he was a rabid unicorn in a desert: he’s an unlikely creature to start with, and finding him in such an unusual environment is doubly baffling. We bring this up as if we were the first people to discover the killing fire or its more hideous cousin, the rom-com. But as with every innovator, Trump is surrounded by a team of equally strange allies, who have aided his rise to prominence and power. Stone is one of them.
Stone has been a political operative since the Nixon years. He didn’t discover Trump, but he got wise to Trump’s potential early, a solitary radio operator picking up war-music from Mars on his basement set.
The rest of us were as ignorant on Donald as a vicar lodged in a Victorian grave. Stone sussed out Trump’s vote-getting potential. He went it. He got it, at some animal level. He knew that, despite what the talking heads said, there was never a time when American soberly and sensibly picked their political gladiators. Much as reason is (and must be) the servant of passion, politics in America has always been the poor prom-court spinster-sister to entertainment.
Stone embodies such a contradiction: like Trump, he seems to be simultaneously both a creature of the hideous past and the unspeakable future. Both men are entertainers who have cast themselves in political roles. Trump brands himself as “the boss” and plays this character before a dysfunctional country. Stone winkingly sells himself as the political operative par excellence. “I am innocent,” the man publicly playing Machiavelli says, and that’s part of the game. In truth, no mastermind with power and influence would ever allow himself to be portrayed in public as Littlefinger. If they know you’re doing it, you’re not doing it very well. That is a lesson that neither Trump nor Stone seem to have learned. Art hides effort, and politics conceals power. That is their essence, and the best form of practice.