WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign viewed Roger Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks and tried to use him to get advanced word about hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton, a former top presidential adviser testified Friday.
In reluctant testimony, former campaign CEO Steve Bannon told a federal court that Stone, on trial for lying to Congress and witness tampering, had boasted about his ties to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange, alerting them to pending new batches of damaging emails.
“The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or to Julian Assange,” Bannon told the court. “But Roger would be considered if we needed an access point.”
It was the first time that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign acknowledged in court that they had actively sought material from WikiLeaks, which released emails that U.S. intelligence agencies determined had been hacked by the Russian government in order to damage Clinton.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Stone, a colorful political operative and Trump ally, is charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about his attempts to contacts WikiLeaks about the damaging material during the 2016 presidential campaign.
While Stone repeatedly “implied that he had a connection with WikiLeaks,” he never stated it directly, Bannon said.
The campaign took Stone’s boasts seriously enough to follow up, asking why expected information about Clinton wasn’t revealed when Assange held a press conference in October 2016.
Bannon, who testified in response to a subpoena, did not say anything about Trump and said Stone had not been sent by anyone on the campaign to talk to Assange.
Earlier this week, a former FBI agent testified about a flurry of phone calls between Stone and then-candidate Trump — including three calls on July 14, 2016 — the day that a massive hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers was reported. But the agent said she did not know what was discussed on those calls.
As he left the courthouse, Bannon griped about being subpoenaed by prosecutors and Congress in addition to being interviewed several times by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as it investigated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“I was forced and compelled to come here today,” he said as he climbed into a waiting SUV outside the courthouse.
Bannon’s testimony came after comedian and radio talk show Randy Credico told jurors that Stone pressured him into backing up lies he told Congress, threatening to take away his dog at one point. Credico said Stone pressed him to “go along” with a false account of the operative’s contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
“He wanted me to go along with this narrative,” Credico said in his second day of testimony.
Stone called a Credico a “rat” and a “stoolie” in a threatening April 2018 email. Credico also testified that Stone used repeated references from the movie “The Godfather Part II” to intimidate him into either backing up Stone’s testimony to Congress or refusing to testify.
“My lawyers are dying to rip you to shreds. I’m going to take that dog away from you,” he said in the email, which Credico read aloud in court. And while Credico testified he considered the threat “hyperbole,” he also said that Stone “plays hardball” and “I did not want to rile the guy.”
The radio host told the court he’s had his dog Bianca, a small breed known as a coton de tulear, since 2006. “I have no wife, no kids, I’ve been around the dog for 12 years,” he said.
Credico has occasionally provoked laughter in court and warnings from the judge.
Thursday’s testimony detailed the acrimonious collapse of the relationship between the liberal Credico and Stone, a longtime conservative operative who revered Richard Nixon so much that he has the disgraced former president’s face tattooed on his back.
Credico and Stone met in 2002 through the campaign of a third-party candidate for New York governor. Despite their political differences, Stone was a regular guest on Credico’s radio show.
“He’s good on radio,” Credico said of Stone. “He’s a good guest to have on.”
Stone, a longtime Trump confidant and conservative operative who has a tattoo of former president Richard Nixon’s face on his back, is accused of telling Congress that Credico was the source of his inside information about WikiLeaks. But Credico said he and Stone never discussed WikiLeaks before late August 2016, making it impossible that he was the “trusted intermediary” that Stone had been referring to for months.
Credico did manage to contact Assange through mutual acquaintance Margaret Kunstler, and hosted Assange on his radio show on Aug. 25, 2016. He says Stone, who had already claimed in interviews to have a back-channel link to Assange, immediately started asking Credico to put him in touch with Assange.
Prosecutors have said Stone lied about his efforts to learn more about the WikiLeaks releases because the truth about his efforts would “look bad” for Trump.
In an often-testy cross examination, defense attorney Robert Buschel tried to paint Stone as the victim of a con job by Credico, saying that the radio host repeatedly lied to Stone to exaggerate his connection and influence with Assange.
They went through the pair’s text exchanges before Credico’s September 2016 trip to London. Credico wrote to Stone that a meeting with Assange, who was sheltering from prosecution in the Ecuadoran embassy, was “on the agenda.” In reality, there was no meeting planned and the closest Credico got to Assange was delivering a letter from his radio station’s administration to the embassy offering Assange a show on their channel.
Credico said Stone was pestering him with requests and that he led Stone to believe he was working on making contact with Assange “just to satisfy him and get him off my back.”
Stone’s trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.