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Despite offering to testify before the House and Senate intelligence committees and “fully cooperate” in their probes of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Roger Stone today put sharp limits on what he’s prepared to say: He won’t identify a mysterious intermediary who gave him advance notice about WikiLeaks document dumps, and he won’t respond to any questions about his continuing communications with President Trump.
In a combative interview Thursday with Yahoo News, Stone — a longtime adviser to Trump — pulled back from an initial promise to answer every question when he testifies before the panels.
“[That’s] probably the one question I would decline to answer,” Stone said in the interview, when pressed on the identity of a source who gave him information from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange last summer, tipping him off to the imminent release of materials damaging to Hillary Clinton that had been hacked by Russian intelligence. He added, “I’m just as much a journalist as you are, my friend. … I have no intention of burning a source.”
“When you go up there and testify under oath, you will refuse to answer questions about your intermediary?” Stone was asked.
“I would not give up a source any more than you would,” he responded. Stone later added another issue that he will consider off-limits to the committees. After acknowledging that he remains in touch with President Trump and has “heard from him recently,” Stone said that he won’t testify about what they talk about, but insisted their communications are not about the Russia probes. “I’m not going to disclose individual conversations with the president or communications with him,” he said.
Stone’s role in the Russia probes has attracted increasing attention in recent weeks, amid disclosures that he had a series of private direct message communications with Guccifer 2.0 — an online persona that U.S. officials concluded was a front for Russian intelligence. In addition, Stone’s tweets last summer indicating that he had advance information about WikiLeaks releases raised suspicions that he was communicating with another key actor in the Russia probe — and the possibility that this may constitute evidence of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump camp.
“It will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on Aug. 21. Then: “Wednesdy @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks,” Stone tweeted on Oct. 2, five days before the first release by WikiLeaks of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails.
“An individual associated with the Trump campaign accurately predicted the release of hacked emails weeks before it happened,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said Thursday during a committee hearing, in an obvious reference to Stone, and citing it as evidence of possible collusion. “This same individual also admits to being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, the Russian intelligence persona responsible for these cyber operations.”
But Stone repeatedly insisted that these contacts and tweets were entirely innocent, and can be easily explained. He rejected the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks had any connections to the Russians — or even that the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Podesta emails was carried out by the Russians.
Stone said he had had dinner in New York with his WikiLeaks source, whom he described as a journalist, and a “friend” both of his and of Assange.
“At some points, I call him a ‘back channel’ — a little showmanship there,” Stone said. “Other places, I refer to him as an ‘intermediary,’ and thirdly I call him what he is, a friend of Assange and a friend of mine.”
“This friend told me — quite simply, really — two things: that Assange had a cache of material on Hillary, that it was complete, which I took to mean that it included some of the emails that were allegedly erased at the State Department, and that it would be dropped in October.”
Stone was asked why, if the “friend” was really a journalist, he didn’t report on the coming document dump.
“Uh, not his beat? I don’t know,” Stone replied.
The idea that Stone had a personal “back channel” to Assange took on new significance — at least to Democrats — in recent weeks, with the news, first reported by the Smoking Gun website, that he was exchanging private messages with Guccifer 2.0.
Stone had told the New York Times two weeks ago that he only had “one exchange” with Guccifer last summer. Today, he said they exchanged 17 public Tweets and private direct messages (including some within the same exchange). But even as he rejected the conclusion of U.S. intelligence that Guccifer 2.0 was a front for the Russians, Stone acknowledged that he had no idea who Guccifer really was. “In all honesty, on Twitter, you never really know who you’re talking to,” Stone said. “How do I even know he is who he says he is?” As for the assessments by U.S. agencies that Guccifer was a Russian agent, Stone responded: “How believable are they, given their track record?”
Stone was also adamant that the Russia investigations will implode. Asked if anybody at the White House has anything to be concerned about from the probes, “Certainly not as far as I’m concerned. A full and fair investigation of the so-called Russian collusion, as far as I’m concerned, there is no danger or vulnerability for either me or for the president.”
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