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Jul 13, 2017

Al Letson Reveals: Roger Stone

Co-produced with PRX Logo

President Donald Trump has been in office for six months. On this week’s podcast special, Reveal host Al Letson speaks with someone who helped get him there – Roger Stone.

Stone is a former campaign adviser to Trump and helped set the tone of the 2016 election. For decades, he’s played hardball politics as a Republican strategist and now is the subject of a documentary. He and Letson discuss political dirty tricks, white supremacy and Russian meddling in the November election.

Credits

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.

 

Al Letson: From The Center For Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Al Letson Reveals. I'm Al Letson.

 

So, this podcast special gives me a chance to dive in deep with people you've been hearing about. Folks who are provocative, and even controversial, like today's guest who talked to us from a studio on Columbia's campus in New York.

 

Roger Stone: Walking to the Columbia University, you're taking your life in your hands if your me.

 

Al Letson: Part campaign manager, part conservative, provocateur, he credits himself with turning Donald Trump into President of the United States. Today's guest is no other than Roger Stone.

 

You have had a busy, busy couple years, huh?

 

Roger Stone: Yeah, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

 

Al Letson: Well, you're being talked about a lot.

 

Roger Stone: I'm out there.

 

Al Letson: He's the first to admit it's not always good things that people have to say. His reputation for playing dirty goes back to the '70s working on the Nixon campaign.

 

Stone's been involved in major republican presidential campaigns since Nixon. Much of his career was recently documented in the Netflix film Get Me Roger Stone.

 

I started our chat asking him what he thought about the movie.

 

Roger Stone: I thought it was pretty down the middle, you know, it was neither a love letter, nor a hit piece. I think it was a pretty accurate reflection of my involvement in the political zeitgeist, and how the themes that elected Richard Nixon in 1968, elected Ronald Reagan in 1980, elected Donald Trump in 20, you know, 16.

 

Al Letson: When I watch the movie, and I hear you talk about politics, it sounds to me like you're talking about sports. Like it's a competition or a boxing match.

 

Roger Stone: Well, politics is a contact sport in American, and those people who say "Oh, we should stick to the issues.", try putting out a white paper on economic development and see how much coverage you get. The answer would be none, no one cares.

 

People like the conflict. They like a fight. Americans love a fight.

 

Al Letson: So, you didn't start the dirty tricks, you just continued the legacy of it?

 

Roger Stone: Well, I just took them into the internet age, I guess. You know, politics has always been rough and tumble. You know, dirty tricks are in the eyes of the beholder. One man's dirty trickster is another man's freedom fighter.

 

Al Letson: You have an office that's filled with Nixon memorabilia. You have a huge tattoo of Nixon on your back. You use Nixon's signature, two hands up, clearly he's a really big influence on your life.

 

Roger Stone: Yeah, he is, I think now, with the benefit of retrospection, he's one of the greatest presidents we've ever had.

 

Al Letson: Whose retrospection though? For most Americans, Nixon is a villain. He's the only president forced to resign from office. I mean, most people would run from that association.

 

Roger Stone: Yeah, he also reached a strategic arms limitations with the Soviets, opened the door to China, ended the war in Vietnam before the Pentagon wanted to.

 

Al Letson: So, all the great things that you talk about with Nixon, what about the dirty tricks that ended up getting him pushed out of office?

 

Roger Stone: Without any question, Nixon's men made a stupid decision to break into the Watergate. So, I guess what I would say is, in retrospect, it's my belief that Nixon was taken down by the deep state. We now learned that two of the Watergate burglars were still on the CIA payroll, and reporting to their case officers.

 

Nixon's real sin, he was a peacemaker.

 

Al Letson: I want to switch gears a little bit about Nixon, and get to more your personal relationship with him. Who was Richard Nixon away from the presidency? Who was he as a man?

 

Roger Stone: Well, the whole point of the tattoo on my back is not actually a political statement, at least not ideologically. What it is, for me, is a daily reminder that in life, when things don't go your way, when you're defeated, when you come up short, when you focus everything on something, and you lose, when you're dejected and disappointed, and maybe even depressed about your failure, well that's the time to get up off the mat and get back in the game.

 

Nixon's story is a story of personal resilience and discipline.

 

Al Letson: There was another campaign strategy that Nixon used called the Southern Strategy, which used race as a wedge issue on matter such as segregation and busing to appeal to white southerners.

 

In 2005, Ken Mehlman, head of the RNC, apologized for it.

 

Roger Stone: First of all, I reject your analysis of Nixon's campaign strategy in 1968.

 

Al Letson: Historians look back at what happened during the Nixon campaign, and they tagged it as the Southern Strategy, it's not me saying it.

 

Roger Stone: Historians are, by and large, liberals, and that is a biased view.

 

Al Letson: But, in 2005, Ken Mehlman, who was the head of the RNC, apologized for it, specifically, for Nixon's Southern Strategy.

 

Roger Stone: Mister Mehlman speaks only for himself.

 

Al Letson: I think, at that time, he was speaking for the RNC.

 

Roger Stone: Well, that may be, and maybe there's some calculation there. I don't think, when it comes to civil rights, Richard Nixon has anything to apologize for.

 

Al Letson: But, in the 2016 election, Trump, and by virtue, you, seemed to use the same strategy, but you expanded it to include Muslims, Latinos, immigrants. Is that a dirty trick?

 

Roger Stone: To say that we should freeze immigration from certain countries until we have a better way of vetting and reviewing those who apply to come to this country, that's not bigoted, or racist, that's common sense.

 

Sealing our borders permanently from immigrants from those countries, that would be bigoted, but that's not what the President has proposed.

 

Al Letson: And the tweets that the President has put out, they have been clearly saying that it is a ban. That he is looking to stop people from coming from those countries. That he doesn't want refugees coming in. It very clearly says that it's not what you're saying it is right now. He wants to keep those people out.

 

Roger Stone: Yeah, I just don't agree with that interpretation.

 

Al Letson: It's not my interpretation. It's specifically what Trump is tweeting.

 

Roger Stone: Would you let 200 thousand immigrants from Syria in without knowing who each one of them are? Disproportionately young men by the way. Is there some possibility that some of them could be criminals or terrorists? Is that possible? I think it's likely, actually.

 

Al Letson: I think that it's a possibility that if you get any group of people together, there're going to be people in that group that have bad intentions, absolutely.

 

Earlier today I did an interview with a counter terrorism expert who said "The number one terrorist in American are white men who are going out and -"

 

Roger Stone: Sorry that's nonsense. Look, this is really, really simple. We have seen a pattern of illegals killing people in this country. Now, some of the people say "Well, in sanctuary series, th-"

 

Al Letson: We've seen a pattern of everyday Americans killing people. I'm saying, in any population you are going to have bad actors, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

 

Roger Stone: If one illegal immigrant kills one American citizen, then the system has failed.

 

Al Letson: If one white supremacist kills-

 

Roger Stone: There are no white supremacists my friend. This is a tiny microcosm of the United States. The Ku Klux Klan today is funded by the federal government. Those are all informants.

 

Al Letson: Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, let's rewind a little bit. Let's rewind. Let's both of us take a deep breath, because I want to have a conversation, no a argument wit you.

 

Roger Stone: I can't let you just say things that aren't true, so go ahead.

 

Al Letson: You just said that there are no white supremacists.

 

Roger Stone: There are virtually none. The whole notions is there's some giant constituency of white supremacists in the country is a joke.

 

Al Letson: I have interviewed white supremacists, and I can tell you that they are there. There are white supremacist organizations. You can go online and fine-

 

Roger Stone: Most of them funded by the federal government. If you went to a Klan meeting today, most of the people there are government informants.

 

This is a tiny group of freaks. This is a tiny group of misfits.

 

Al Letson: Right here, we're going to disagree about whether there are white supremacists in this country. We can disagree about that. I think that what I don't understand is you said "Most of the white supremacists that you see at a Ku Klux Klan rally are working for the government." Explain that to me.

 

Roger Stone: Yes, the government continues to pay people as informants, and this is kinda propped up that movement. I'm not going to say there are no white supremacists that would be ridiculous.

 

Al Letson: But you did say that.

 

Roger Stone: There are virtually, okay, let me correct myself, there are virtually none. Sorry, are you going to tell me more people who are killed in this country by white supremacists than illegal immigrants? Are you going to claim that, because that's false. That's just not true. That's just not true.

 

Al Letson: I would say, you can look at the history of this country, and you can trace how white supremacists have terrorized people who are different in this country, minorities, have terrorized black people, have terrorized Latinos, have terrorized indigenous people in this country. It is a part of our history, and we can't deny that.

 

Roger Stone: Maybe in the 1890s. I really think you're seeing a tremendous problem that doesn't really exist in a wholesale basis.

 

First of all, I denounce white supremacists. I have nothing in common with them, but I have spoken all over the country, and I've been to many, many, many conservative meetings. I've never seen the people you're talking about.

 

I think they are a tiny minority.

 

Al Letson: I am a African American who grew up in the South, and I can tell you that I have seen white supremacists. I can tell you that there's a large contingency of them in the south. I can tell you that they may not wear sheets. That they may not burn crosses on your lawns, but they are there.

 

Roger Stone: And I can tell you as a white man who lives in Harlem, I am threatened all the time, all the time, on the streets. So, let's not pretend that, that problem doesn't exist. This is a minority in both extremes.

 

Al Letson: Race in America is a complicated issue.

 

Roger Stone: Yes.

 

Al Letson: It's a very complicated issue, and I live my life in one lens, and you live it in another, and we see the world differently, but let me ask you this. I went and looked at your Twitter feed, and I saw some of the tweets that you have put out there, and some of those tweets could be categorized as racist.

 

So, I'm curious, like, you say you have nothing in common with white supremacists, but yet you tweeted Roland Martin saying "Who is this stupid negro, Roland Martin, a buffoon, or a token buffoon?"

 

Roger Stone: I've actually apologized for that particular tweet, but just to point this out-

 

Al Letson: There's a lot of them though. There's a lot of them.

 

Roger Stone: I was marching with Reverend Sharpton against New York State's racist drug laws, the so-called Rockefeller drug laws 15 years ago. So, and I have supported every gay marriage initiative in the state of Florida, where I'm a resident. So, don't call me a racist, or a bigot, because I am neither based on one tweet that was, probably, in temperate.

 

Al Letson: I am not calling you a racist. I'm merely asking for you to explain these statements to me, because these statements sound like racism.

 

Roger Stone: I say, have you ever said anything you regretted in your long career? In your short, shorter career than mine?

 

Al Letson: Oh my goodness, yes, I have absolutely said plenty of things that I've regretted, and I've apologized for it.

 

Roger Stone: And I have apologized for that. It was in temperate, and it was an error.

 

Al Letson: So, let's move on to the news of the day. When did you first meet Mister Trump?

 

Roger Stone: I met him in 1979 when I was sent to New York to organization Governor Reagan's campaign for president.

 

Al Letson: What made you think he could be a politician?

 

Roger Stone: He has a certain charisma, a certain magnetism, although it's greater than that. It's a, I don't know, it's a command presence, if you will. He's, obviously, he's tall. He is magnetic. It's really hard to put your finger on.

 

I wanted him to run in 1988. I wanted him to run in 2000. I wanted him to run in 2012. In retrospect, I would have to admit that the time would not have been right for the Trump style, and in all of those years, there's was a better chance that a career politician, of either party, would win the presidency.

 

Al Letson: What makes the time right now?

 

Roger Stone: I've never seen, in any of the polling I have looked for, a greater disgust, and distrust, and anger, with both parties, and with all political institutions by the voters. They've had it. They're fed up. They're tired of being led to. They blame both parties, as they should. They distrust the media, for the first time.

 

So, I think the time was right for an outsider, and Trump entered the race with one giant advantage, a universal name ID. 15 seasons of The Apprentice there was not a person in the United States who didn't know who Donald Trump was.

 

That's an extraordinary advantage.

 

Al Letson: The 2016 campaign, it was brutal. I mean, you described it in the documentary as the Era of Stone, and you ushered in some pretty brutal attacks. Hillary Clinton with the Lock Her Up chants that you heard all over the country.

 

You said that Hillary hires private detectives to break into women's homes, kill their children, and kill their pets.

 

Roger Stone: I didn't say kill their children. I think I said threaten their children.

 

Al Letson: Let me ask you this, why should we believe you? One of Stone's rules is deny, deny, deny.

 

So, if that's one of your rules-

 

Roger Stone: Unless you have some evidence to the contrary, you don't have to believe me. You don't even have to have me on your radio program. You know, I put it out there. If you have some proof, I'd like to see it.

 

Al Letson: You said you would like to testify to the house, or a senate intelligence committee regarding Russia. What is it that you would say to them?

 

Roger Stone: Well, for example, "Stone knew in advance of Podesta's email being hacked." No I didn't, and he has no evidence to the contrary. That needs to be publicly corrected.

 

Others say "Stone was in direct contact with Assange." Assange, by the way, in my view, is a journalist, and the idea that the Trump administration would prosecute a journalist for publishing information that they obtain, I find that deeply troubling.

 

I think that if you arrest Julian Assange for publishing information that he's given by a source, who's next? The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, it's a slippery slope.

 

Al Letson: What about journalists who disagree with Trump?

 

Roger Stone: I'm opposed to censorship. I'm opposed to censorship of any kind. I don't think you should be censored on Facebook, or Twitter, or whether you want to publish an article that I disagree with. I'm opposed to censorship.

 

Al Letson: So, what's your take on fake news then?

 

Roger Stone: Yeah, like CNN, for example, I think a lot of what they produce is fake news. Fake news, again, in the eye of the beholder.

 

Al Letson: The eye of the beholder though, is a little bit of a cop out when there's truth. There is X happened, or Y happened. There's truth.

 

Roger Stone: I think we just went round and round and pointed out that we can't agree on what the truth is on certain issues, and therefore, everyone should be able to express their point of view.

 

Al Letson: How do you think this information has informed the society we live in today?

 

Roger Stone: Let's see, where should we start?

 

Al Letson: President Obama, of not being an American citizen, that was false.

 

Roger Stone: Yes, it was. I believe it was.

 

Al Letson: And that was the first major political act by Donald Trump. By the time he was campaigning, he had created a platform based on that misinformation.

 

Roger Stone: Many, many people believed it, and until the President released a birth certificate, it was, at least for many Americans, an open question.

 

Why he didn't release that document far earlier than he did, and put this whole thing to rest, I really don't know.

 

I believe in the intelligence of the American people. Let each person decide what they choose to believe. What they choose to value, and what they don't.

 

Al Letson: Here's a real consequence to that, Pizzagate. A guy goes to this pizza-

 

Roger Stone: Right, who's now disappeared by the way, and who may have been a paid provocateur.

 

Al Letson: I feel like any question that I give you that points towards disinformation, you're going to throw back at me. Like, "Who is this guy? Where'd he go?", and "He's not associated with us."

 

Roger Stone: And I feel like your questions are loaded to make me take responsibility for Pizzagate, something I've never written about, or talked about, and have very little knowledge about.

 

Al Letson: What I'm asking you, no, we're talking about fake news, and all I'm trying to do is give you an example of how fake news can become a problem.

 

So, that's where, I think, that we have to look at what fake news is doing to us as a society.

 

Roger Stone: And we have to acknowledge that sometimes fake news is created for purposes of disinformation. I know nothing whatsoever about Pizzagate.

 

Al Letson: Okay, let's talk about Trump and the FBI. Did you recommend that he fire Director James Comey?

 

Roger Stone: I am not going to characterize any conversations that I have had with the President that would be private.

 

Al Letson: Did you think that Comey should be fired?

 

Roger Stone: I did. I'd certainly written it. I'd talked about it in my syndicated radio show. I talked about it on my weekly television show.

 

Al Letson: Why?

 

Roger Stone: For a number of reasons. First of all, I think that he had become a power unto himself. Deciding what crimes to investigate, and what crimes not to.

 

On the basis of the New York Times story-

 

Al Letson: Isn't that his job though?

 

Roger Stone: No, it's not. No, it's not his job. He politicized the FBI. He furthered the obstruction. He actually facilitated it.

 

Al Letson: On the flip side, it looks like President Trump tried to impede an active investigation by asking Comey to stay away from Russia.

 

Roger Stone: Not what he said, at all.

 

Al Letson: No, he asked for Comey's loyalty. He asked for Comey's loyalty when the FBI's supposed to be an independent organization that goes out and investigates.

 

Roger Stone: The FBI director serves at the pleasure of the President of the United States.

 

Al Letson: But the FBI has to have the freedom to be able to investigate the current administration as well.

 

Roger Stone: Mister Comey did not say that the President told him to fix the investigation into Flynn.

 

Al Letson: No, he asked him to go easy on Flynn. He asked him to go easy on Flynn.

 

Roger Stone: But, there is still, to this day, no evidence whatsoever, that Flynn has broken the law. There's evidence that Flynn did some stupid things. I don't think I would have taken a gratuity from Russian TV.

 

By the way, I've appeared on RT. I won't take any money from them, and before each appearance I make it clear that I could say something critical to the Russian state of Vladmir Putin. I am not going to be censored there anymore than anyplace else, and they've never had a problem with that.

 

Al Letson: Do you feel like this is a presidency in crises, because, you know, he hasn't been able to move any major legislation. Just a tiny percent of Americans want his healthcare plan passed. Most Americans oppose pulling out of the Paris Accords.

 

How do you think the presidency is doing right now?

 

Roger Stone: If it's a presidency in crisis, it's because those who lost the last election now seek to do what they couldn't do at the ballot box. To undermine the President. To destabilize his presence.

 

Al Letson: When I look at the way you think of politics, and how rough and tumble it is, and how, you know, everybody's gotta pull their knives out. I'm wondering what does your vision of America look like?

 

Roger Stone: Well, the policies that we have been pursuing for the last 30 years are not working. They're too many people in poverty. They're too many people getting poor education. They're too many children graduating from college and having to move back in with their parents.

 

The answer to all of our policy questions, the problem to a better America, is economic propriety.

 

Al Letson: And you think that the economic moves, and the moves that the administration are doing right now, are going to do that?

 

Roger Stone: I think the moves of the last two administrations have failed to do it, so why wouldn't we go in the opposite direction?

 

Yes, I think cutting taxes, and cutting regulation, and moving obstacles to job creation would create a stronger economy.

 

Yes, if you cut the corporate tax rate below that of China, or Mexico, or Japan, you will force a number of companies to come back in this country, to expand here, to hire here, and I think that would create an economic boom.

 

So, I think more pro-growth oriented policies. The kind of economic plan that the President put forward during the campaign, would ignite an economic boom, which would both give us more revenue to deal with our many social problems, and more time.

 

Al Letson: Mister Stone, thank you so much for coming in today. I really appreciate your time, and I hope we can talk again.

 

Roger Stone: Happy to be here, many thanks.

 

Al Letson: Roger Stone was a campaign advisor to Donald Trump. By the way, after this interview was recorded, the Pizzagate shooter, Edgar Madison Welch, the guy who Roger Stone said disappeared, was sentenced to four years in prison.

 

So, we actually do know where he is.

 

You're listening to Al Letson Reveals. Now, if you like this interview, and you want to hear more of me going one-on-one with someone, send me your suggestions on Twitter. I'm @al_letson. That's @al_letson.

 

This interview was produced by Amy Walters, and edited by Kevin Sullivan. Our sound design team is the Wonder Twins, my man Jay Breezey, Mister Jim Briggs, and Claire C. McMullen, with help from Katherine Raymondo.

 

Special thanks to Reveal editor Andy Donahue. Reveal is a company-production of The Center For Investigative Reporting, and PRX.

 

I'm Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.