Trump's Dirty Trickster: The Staggeringly Shady Dealings of Political Operative Roger Stone

Election '16

Here are just some of the things Roger Stone, the longtime Republican political operative and decades-long friend of Donald Trump, did last week: He "confirmed" that Ted Cruz's father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, called for Bernie Sanders to be shot for treason, and promised right-wing nut-job conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that "Trump will destroy Hillary."

The Cruz-Kennedy thing was vintage Stone, and was of course peddled by Trump despite the fact that he was on the verge of sweeping the Indiana primary and driving his rival out of the race for good. Trump later told Wolf Blitzer he did not believe the Kennedy assassination smear even as he was saying it.

While Trump was busy giving his victory speech and commending Cruz for making the contest competitive, Stone was still peddling the “bombshell” report tying Cruz's father to Kennedy's assassination.

“I went over to the sheriff’s department last night,” Stone told AM 970 The Answer host Joe Piscopo last week. “Take a computer analysis of the photo, the facial aspects of the photo, and Rafael Cruz’s photo today, it’s a perfect match.”

Pressed by Piscopo about whether he actually visited the sheriff’s department to verify the image, Stone admitted he “talked to a guy” and “asked him to do it.”

“I think it’s Rafael Cruz,” Stone added. To drive the point home, Stone tweeted "confirmation” that Rafael Cruz was involved with Oswald. 

Following Ted Cruz’s decision to suspend his presidential campaign, CNN’s Jake Tapper fired back at Stone, tweeting: 

But Roger Stone cannot stop smearing. Smearing is more or less breathing to him. Nor would he take much offense at being called a smear artist, or as Cruz called him when Trump publicized the National Enquirer story about Cruz's alleged extramarital affairs, "[Donald] Trump's henchman and dirty trickster."

Stone's response?

“Look, I'm a brand name when it comes to dirty tricks,” Stone said. “He called me a henchman, and I don't really object to that, but henchmen get paid, and I have been paid nothing by Trump.”

Technically, Trump did fire Stone from his campaign last August, or at least he said he did. In the battle between the two egomaniacal friends, Trump's complaint had nothing to do with how dirty Stone plays, it was the fact that he claims too much credit when things go well.

On the payroll or not, Stone’s tight relationship with the presumptive Republican nominee spans almost four decades and a whole lot of dirty dealing. He met Trump in 1979, while working as an aide for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign. The pair were introduced through Roy Cohn, the legendary lawyer (for Trump's father, among others), McCarthy sidekick and political fixer—a Democrat who took interest in Reagan’s campaign and acted as a mentor to Stone.

According to journalist Marc Ames, a longtime Stone-watcher, the mainstays of the Trump-Stone alliance are three:

  1. Roger Stone’s dirty tricks specialty is manipulating vote fractures, and weaponizing anti-establishment politics to serve the electoral needs of mainstream Republican candidates.
  2. Roger Stone and Donald Trump have been working together since the mid-1980s, mostly on sleazy campaigns to help Trump’s casino business, but also in politics.
  3. Roger Stone and Donald Trump worked together in at least two major “black bag” operations manipulating anti-establishment politics to help the mainstream Republican presidential candidate.

Sure sounds like the blueprint of the Trump campaign so far.

Stone has always been primarily interested in power and access, and his love of the GOP dates back to the Goldwater campaign in 1964, which he worked for when he was all of about 12. At age 19, Stone secured a position working for another one of his role models, Richard Nixon. He joined the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (affectionately dubbed C.R.E.E.P. by Nixon’s opponents) where he got his first taste of backhanded politics. Reportedly using the pseudonym Jason Rainier, Stone donated money to Paul McCloskey, who was challenging Nixon for the Republican nomination. Signing the funds under the guise of the Young Socialist Alliance, Stone leaked a receipt of the check to the press, effectively labeling McClosky a secret socialist and derailing the challenger’s chance of landing the Republican nomination. Nixon was coronated as the party nominee at the Republican National Convention later that year.

Stone’s admiration of Nixon is well documented. “The reason I’m a Nixonite is because of his indestructibility and resilience,” Stone has said. “He never quit. His whole career was all built around his personal resentment of élitism.” 

The political insider even has a tattoo of Nixon’s face on his back. "It's there to remind me that in life, when things don't go your way, you get back in the game," Stone told CNN. "Nixon said, 'A man is not finished when he's defeated, he's only finished when he quits.'"

Following the Watergate scandal in 1973 and Nixon’s resignation, the young Republican went on to work for Reagan’s failed 1976 presidential campaign, and later for his successful 1980 and 1984 campaigns. Ed Rollins, Reagan’s first political director, called Stone “a fringe player.” 

“He always had this reputation of being a guy who exaggerated things, who pretended he did things.” Rollins said. “Roger was never on Nixon’s staff, was never on the White House staff. I don’t think you’ll find anyone in the business who trusts him. Roger was always a little rat.”

After decades in what he would describe as the center of the political ring, the Republican strategist was forced to resign from Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign when his favorite publication, the National Enquirer, revealed he and his wife placed ads seeking swinging partners.

“Hot, insatiable lady and her handsome body builder husband, experienced swingers, seek similar couples or exceptional muscular … single men,” read the ad, placed in a magazine called Local Swing Fever. Stone originally denied the story’s authenticity, but admitted in 2008 that the ads were real. “When that whole thing hit the fan in 1996, the reason I gave a blanket denial was that my grandparents were still alive,” Stone told the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin. “I’m not guilty of hypocrisy. I’m a libertarian and a libertine.”

Stone describes himself as “a total Republican,” but he's the species of Republican that predates the more recent “Christian-right conservative" wing of the party, which Trump is said to be alienating. Longtime friend Douglas Schoen called him, “not so much a Republican as an actor who likes to assume poses,” adding “the show is not a byproduct of his life—it is his life.”

After the temporary setback, Stone worked his way back into party politics, landing key roles in campaigns for George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Thomas Kean. While working for George W. Bush during the 2004 presidential campaign, Stone reportedly convinced Reverend Al Sharpton to join the presidential race as a patsy candidate to defeat Democratic rival Al Gore. Mark Ames writes in "Behind the scenes of the Donald Trump-Roger Stone show":

As it turns out, Al Sharpton entered the 2004 Democratic primaries on the payroll and orders of Roger Stone, who directed Sharpton’s attacks from the race politics-left against Howard Dean. And as the New York Times revealed that year, it was Donald Trump who took credit for introducing Al Sharpton—a one-time FBI informant—to his old friend and lobbyist, GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone.

That wasn’t the first time Stone used his contacts to manipulate the outcome of an election. Four years earlier, during the contentious 2000 election, Stone played a role in convincing Trump to run as a Reform Party candidate against Pat Buchanan, who was threatening to take votes away from establishment Republican candidate George W. Bush. Ames writes that Trump ran as a Reform Party candidate “only to drop out of the race, and attack Buchanan’s Reform Party as a cesspool full of Hitler lovers and racists”—an interesting line of attack from a man who currently has the support of white-supremacist and former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.

Later that year, Stone, who calls himself "the GOP hitman,” spearheaded the Brooks Brothers riot that thwarted Florida’s ballot recount. By his account, Stone managed to rally right-wing protesters to assemble outside a voting center in Miami-Dade—a diverse county sympathetic to Gore. “The idea we were putting out there was that this was a left-wing power grab by Gore, the same way Fidel Castro did it in Cuba. We were very explicitly drawing that analogy,” Stone recalled. “The idea was to shut it down, stop the recount here in Miami.”

The scheme worked. The crowd eventually rioted inside the voting center while ballots were being counted. According to the New York Times, “several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors outside the office of the Miami-Dade supervisor of elections. Sheriff's deputies restored order."

Stone’s history of shady dealings isn't limited to politics; in 2000, Stone joined forces with Trump to address an Indian casino in the Catskills that threatened to steal business from Trumps’ Atlantic City resorts. According to Ames, “Trump and Stone were fined $250,000 for setting up a fake ‘family values’ front group in New York, the Institute for Law and Society, to run a series of racist ads” against the Indian reservation.

In the early stages of Trump’s current presidential run, Stone played an integral advisory role for the GOP candidate. But last August, it was announced he would no longer help the campaign in an official capacity. The pair launched into a he-said-he-said match; Trump claimed Stone was fired because he “wanted to use the campaign for his own personal publicity” and “always tries taking credit" for things he never did. Stone insisted he resigned, citing “current controversies involving personalities and provocative media fights” (namely Trump’s ongoing feud with Megyn Kelly).

But this is just the latest iteration in a pattern of on-again off-again friendship between Trump and Stone. In 2008, the business mogul called his longtime adviser “a stone-cold loser.” Despite their turbulent friendship, a source close to Trump and Stone told CNN the pair “always find their way back to each other” adding, "Roger is never too far away from Trump ... He's always talking to Donald.”

Asked whether he continues to speak with Trump despite not working directly with his campaign, Stone stayed mum on specifics. “I still consider him a friend, and think he still considers me a friend; let’s just leave it at that,” Stone said. “And I’m going to keep beating the drum for him until he is in the White House.”

And beat the drum he does. Stone is an aggressive peddler of anti-Democrat and anti-Clinton rhetoric. He calls the Democratic Party “the party of slavery,” while “Republicans are the party of freedom.” In 2008, Stone started an anti-Clinton group Citizens United Not Timid (or C.U.N.T), an organization Stone thought up “in a bar” that has no real function except to provide Stone an excuse for publicizing the offensive acronym. Last year, Stone published a laughable book called The Clintons’ War on Women, arguing that Bill and Hillary Clinton systematically bullied, intimidated and abused women throughout their political careers. Stone seems to believe Trump will be successful in levying these attacks against the Democratic frontrunner. “Part of the strategy of any campaign is to psych out the opposition,” Stone told Politico.

Stone's brand of cynical politics doesn’t always go unchecked. In February, he was banned from CNN for calling contributor Ana Navarro a “pompous shithead” on Twitter. Following the network's annoucement, Stone launched into an assault on CNN, arguing the ban was the result of “a cable news network that folds on the demands of the Clintonistas” and insisting he was silenced for his opposition to Hillary Clinton. Though he said the firing had nothing to do with his derogatory tweets, Stone scrubbed his Twitter feed of numerous insulting posts, including one where he called commentator Roland Martin a “fat negro.”

Stone has also faced criticism for inciting violence through his social media posts. He once tweeted he wanted “to bash [Bill] O’Reilly’s head in,” and offered cash for someone to punch MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. Last month, Stone threatened that if Trump did not win the Republican convention, he “will disclose the hotels and the room numbers of those delegates who are directly involved in the steal. If you're from Pennsylvania, we'll tell you who the culprits are. We urge you to visit their hotel and find them.” 

With Cruz and Kasich both departing from the race, it’s unlikely the GOP hitman will have to orchestrate another riot in the name of Republican party politics, though he's undoubtedly prepared to do so. And despite backing a candidate who regularly challenges the basic tenets of the First Amendment, Stone is confident Trump’s political vision is what the nation needs. "Trump believes in the Constitution of the United States,” Stone told GQ. “He's a constitutionalist.”

Stone added Trump “would be very disappointed” and “sorrowful for his country” if Democratic operatives manage to steal the election. And as someone who’s been involved in shady politics for 30 of the last 30 years, Stone knows exactly "what we've had."

“Remember, politics is not about uniting people,” Stone told Jeffrey Toobin in 2008. “It’s about dividing people and getting your 51 percent.”

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