Trump confidante Roger Stone has found himself in an uncomfortable position: the crosshairs of the Clinton campaign, which alleges he has ties to Wikileaks, the organization mounting its own assault against the Democratic nominee.
In short, they are turning the conspiracy theorist into the theory.
For the past week, Wikileaks has engaged in damaging daily releases of stolen emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, something that Trump has seized on in his speeches to show Hillary Clinton’s relationship with big banks and the so-called ‘establishment.’ The Wikileaks organization has been a thorn in the side of governments around the world, releasing secret documents usually shielded from public view.
The Clinton campaign has responded by questioning Stone’s connections to Wikileaks, which somehow came into possession of more than 50,000 emails from Podesta’s inbox. If it’s true that Stone had foreknowledge of Russian-hacked emails, it would create yet another troubling link between Trump and Vladimir Putin’s orbit.
Stone has made no secret of his relationship with Wikileaks, telling far-right radio host Alex Jones in August that he had “mutual friends” with Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, who he said was "one of the great freedom fighters in the world today.” Stone predicted weeks ago that Podesta would be enmeshed in scandal -- and hinted Wikileaks would be the ones to spark it.
But he issued a Trumpesque denial to The Daily Beast on Thursday: in an email, Stone said he “did not” know about the Wikileaks release in advance, despite publicly boasting that such information would be coming down the line.
Stone told The Daily Beast that he only predicted a coming Podesta scandal because he had done "extensive research" independently, regarding Podesta's "money laundering for Russian interests and the Clinton foundation as well as money laundering in connection with the legal sale of military technology," which he will soon publish a piece on.
“The original documents I found were in Russian and German and took some time to translate,” he added.
It could only happen in 2016: Stone, who has at varying times been a lobbyist, a political strategist, is now the subject of a conspiracy of his own. It’s a bizarre position for Stone to be in, given that he’s usually the one spinning theories, such as worrying openly about being assassinated by the Clintons and claiming they killed John F. Kennedy, Jr.
The Clinton campaign’s theory holds far more credibility than Stone’s ramblings: Podesta claims that Stone had prior knowledge of the hack, which the FBI believes was carried out by the Russian intelligence.
Sometime before the end of July 2016, the Clinton team began to suspect that Podesta’s emails had been breached, a campaign official told The Daily Beast. In late August, more than six weeks before Wikileaks started dumping Podesta’s emails, Stone began making dark insinuations that suggest he knew that a Podesta scandal would soon be revealed.
“Trust Me, It Will Soon The Podesta's Time In The Barrel. #CrookedHillary,” Stone tweeted.
“Stone pointed his finger at me, and said that I could expect some treatment that would expose me,” Podesta told reporters Tuesday.
In a conference call with reporters organized by the Clinton campaign Friday morning, former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell named Stone as someone he felt should be investigated for ties with Russia.
Morrell believes that while Trump may be an "unwitting agent" of the Russian government, Stone and others "may be into this more deeply, may have relationships with Russia -- perhaps financials relationships… and they're actually working on behalf of the Russians in getting this material out and spreading it around."
"I don't want to go overboard here and say I know that for sure, I certainly don't. But I am deeply concerned about it," Morrell added. "I think it requires a full investigation and it requires the American people to know the truth here before election day."
More than a month before Wikileaks began releasing Podesta's emails, Trump predicted “Podesta-gate” on his radio show, "Stone Cold Truth” -- “This guy makes [Paul] Manafort look like Saint Thomas Aquinas,” he quipped. Manafort, of course, is a former business partner of Stone’s who was booted from the Trump campaign after his work for pro-russian Ukrainian oligarchs came to light.
Stone told The Daily Beast that he had a “mutual friend” who has visited with Assange, but that he “never received any documents from [Wikileaks] and I know the claim they Assange works for the Russian [government] is Clinton campaign bullshit.”
He recently told a local CBS affiliate that dinner with his mutual friend on Oct. 10. That same night, Stone made another pronouncement.
“I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon #LockHerUp,” Stone wrote on Twitter.
Four days later, Wikileaks began releasing a daily deluge of stolen Podesta emails. The Clinton campaign went on the offensive.
“We now know the FBI believes the Russians are behind this hack and that a Trump campaign associate was back-channeling with Julian Assange,” said Clinton campaign spokesman Glen Caplin. “On Day 5 of the WikiLeaks propaganda campaign the question is what did the Trump campaign know and when did they know it?”
“The charge is meant to deflect from Podesta's illegal activities,” Stone shot back.
--Olivia Nuzzi contributed reporting.