Did a joke by Roger Stone turn out to be accidentally prophetic, or did Donald Trump’s informal adviser have inside knowledge of the DNC hack? Two witnesses have told the Washington Post that Stone mentioned his contacts with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in the spring of 2016, before the group began releasing hacked e-mails from the DNC and from John Podesta. Stone had recently denied having any contact at all with Assange:
Stone, an informal adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump, said he had learned from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that his organization had obtained emails that would torment senior Democrats such as John Podesta, then campaign chairman for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of Podesta and of the Democratic National Committee, documents which WikiLeaks released in late July and October. The U.S. intelligence community later concluded the hackers were working for Russia.
Curiously, one of the two witnesses is none other than Sam Nunberg, who insisted a week ago that he’d rather go to prison than give up anything on his former mentor. In fact, Nunberg specifically declared that he would refuse to be used in an attempt to connect Stone to Assange:
Watch: Ex-Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg says he's refusing comply with Mueller subpoena:
"I'm not going to cooperate when they want me to come into a grand jury for them to insinuate that Roger Stone was colluding with Julian Assange. Roger is my mentor. Roger is like family." pic.twitter.com/jUtBCPNiDe
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 5, 2018
Now, however, Nunberg points the finger at Stone publicly, with or without a subpoena:
The person, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation into Russian campaign interference, is one of two Stone associates who say Stone claimed to have had contact with Assange in 2016.
The second, former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg, said in an interview Monday that Stone told him that he had met with Assange — a conversation Nunberg said investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III recently asked him to describe.
To call this curious is to engage in massive understatement. Nunberg seems as though he’s on a mission to deliberately torpedo his own credibility, perhaps in a crazy-like-a-fox attempt to make himself entirely worthless to Robert Mueller and his special counsel probe.
Stone told the Post that he joked about his connections with Assange as a way to stop Nunberg from pestering him:
“I wish him no ill will, but Sam can manically and persistently call you,” Stone said, recalling that Nunberg had called him on a Friday to ask about his plans for the weekend. “I said, ‘I think I will go to London for the weekend and meet with Julian Assange.’ It was a joke, a throwaway line to get him off the phone. The idea that I would meet with Assange undetected is ridiculous on its face.’’’
Stone said he does not recall any similar conversation with anyone else.
“The allegation that I met with Assange, or asked for a meeting or communicated with Assange is provably false,” he said, adding that he did not leave the country in 2016.
There’s a problem with the “it’s a joke” explanation for Stone’s comments, which is that he’s made them with people other than Nunberg, and not behind closed doors. For instance, Stone claimed to be in contact with Assange on August 9, 2016, too, saying, “I actually have communicated with Assange” and claimed to know about the next tranche of hacked documents Wikileaks would release. Stone specified that those e-mails might come from the Clinton Foundation; nine days later, Reuters reported that the hackers might have gone after the organization. In a tweet from his suspended Twitter account on October 2nd, before the Podesta hack releases, Stone hinted at a new Wikileaks report: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.” Eleven days later, Wikileaks began releasing John Podesta’s e-mails from the Center for American Progress.
That’s one hell of a series of coincidences for a “joke.” And let’s not forget that Stone made a public admission of Wikileaks contacts, later deleted, in May of last year:
While tweeting his support of the president’s unsubstantiated claims that Barack Obama tried to undermine the Trump campaign, Stone directed a series of angry and abusive messages at a scientist who questioned him.
In one post, later deleted, Stone said he had “never denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on #CrookedHillary”.
He also invited challengers to file libel suits against him, saying: “Bring it! Would enjoy crush u in court and forcing you to eat shit – you stupid ignorant ugly bitch!”
Of course, all these comments have been well known since they were made, so it’s not clear what value these witnesses would have to Mueller now — especially Nunberg in the middle of a credibility meltdown. If Stone claimed to have an Assange connection in spring 2016, that might be interesting, but investigators already had plenty of breadcrumbs to follow on Stone. They would need to find actual communications between the two to have a winnable case in court; these supposed admissions given secondhand by Nunberg and an unnamed witness wouldn’t be enough, and probably wouldn’t even advance the ball much.