Roger Stone finally came face to face Tuesday with the man he bad-mouthed for months: top House Democratic Russia investigator Rep. Adam Schiff. When he left, a swaggering Stone said he was as convinced as ever that the probe is little more than a "political exercise."
But after Schiff and his House intelligence committee colleagues grilled Stone for three hours in a closed-door interview at the Capitol, the lawmaker tersely accused Stone of refusing to answer at least one significant question — and suggested the longtime Trump associate could be compelled to return under the threat of a subpoena.
Schiff declined to say what question Stone wouldn't answer, but Stone himself told reporters: he wouldn't divulge the person who acted as his go-between with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange last year. Stone has come under scrutiny for seeming to predict Wikileaks' October dump of emails hacked from the account of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta.
That hack, which intelligence officials believe was orchestrated by Russia and funneled to Wikileaks, is at the center of the committee's probe into whether anyone from President Donald Trump's campaign coordinated the interference effort with the Kremlin.
"I expressed my view that I’m aware of no evidence whatsoever of collusion by the Russian state or anyone in the Trump campaign or anyone associated with Donald Trump," Stone told reporters. He said he had not communicated with Trump about the testimony. "I’m not even sure he is aware that I am testifying today.”
Though his hearing was private, Stone described his interactions with committee members as entirely "professional," saying he did not call Schiff any names to his face. (He had previously called the lawmaker "Schiffhead").
Stone's comments to reporters were bereft of the fury he packed into a 47-page opening statement distributed the day before. He described sometimes testy exchanges between Republicans and Democrats on the committee, suggesting that a top Republican on the panel, Rep. Trey Gowdy, took exception to an aside Schiff made about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Though Stone emerged confidently, insisting he had clarified misperceptions about his own role in the Russia matter, he was more sober when describing the potential fate of his longtime business partner Paul Manafort, who has become an increasingly clear target of a separate criminal probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller. Stone indicated that Manafort's attorneys had informed his that Manafort expects to be indicted, though on what charge was unclear. A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stone became a focus of the Russia probe because he indicated in August 2016 that he had communicated with Assange through backchannels. Later that month, he seemed to foreshadow the email dump when he prophesied that it would soon be “Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Wikileaks began publishing Podesta’s emails in October.
Stone also revealed earlier this year that he’d been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, believed to be a Russian-affiliated hacker at the center of a separate hack of the Democratic National Committee. In both cases, he said Tuesday, his communications were legal and not part of any effort to collude with a foreign power. He said the person who connected him to Assange was a journalist who he could not name because their conversation was "off the record."
Officials were braced for his unique brand of theatrics before, during and after the session, not least because Stone had said he would bring a reporter and cameraman to Capitol Hill with him. On Tuesday, Stone arrived with a reporter for InfoWars — the site anchored by ally Alex Jones — who trailed him until he entered the secure hearing room.
Even while he testified behind closed doors, Stone’s presence was evident. Five supporters, who identified themselves as members of Blacks for Trump, a group that often shows up at Trump rallies in support of the president, gathered outside the hearing room to show support for Stone. Their shirts read “Trump & Republicans are not racist.”
After briefly holding court outside the room, the men left when a Capitol Police officer approached them about whether they had permission to be in a staff-only area.
Clearly relishing his moment at the center of Washington intrigue, the flamboyant Stone wrote in a Sunday tweet that the conspiracy-peddling pro-Trump website InfoWars was “embed[ding] a reporter and cameraman in Camp Stone for my epic testimony.”
And a day before his appearance before the panel, Stone posted a photo of himself reading a book titled The Russians, which he captioned: “Preparing for my testimony before the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow 9am.”
Stone indicated that none of those fireworks materialized Tuesday, though he said his dim view of many of the committee's Democrats — with the exception of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who he described as a nice guy — remained unchanged.
Stone said the intelligence committee hadn’t asked him to restrict his comments to the press. But he has demanded that it release full transcripts of his interview “so that there will be no confusion or misinformation about my testimony.”
Stone had long demanded that he testify in an open session, which would have provided a live-television platform for his colorful denunciations of the Russia probe. He had previously been slated to appear before the committee in July, only to have his hearing canceled. In a subsequent tirade on Alex Jones’s InfoWars show, Stone ripped Democrats as “pimps” for the delay.
Stone has proudly styled himself as a master of dark political arts since he served as an aide on Richard Nixon’s 1968 campaign. After a years-long business relationship with Trump, the men linked up in 2000 for the developer’s short-lived flirtation with a presidential bid on the Reform Party ticket.
Darren Samuelsohn contributed reporting.