The Trump campaign viewed Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone as their “access point” to WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange in their hunt for information to hurt Hillary Clinton, Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon testified Friday.
“I think it was generally believed that the axis point or the potential access point to WikiLeaks was Roger Stone,” Bannon said from the witness stand in D.C. District Court on Friday afternoon. “The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or Julian Assange, but Roger would be viewed as an access point because Roger told me he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.”
And Bannon testified that, although he didn’t consider the WikiLeaks dumps to be a high priority for him, he was still interested in their usefulness to the campaign as it floundered in the polls in the summer and fall of 2016.
The Trump campaign looked to Stone for help because of his expertise in opposition research, Bannon said.
When you’re this far behind, you need to use every tool in the tool box … opposition research, dirty tricks, things that campaigns need to use to make up some ground,” he said.
Stone, the longtime Republican operative and flamboyant hatchet man is charged with misrepresenting his 2016 attempt at collaborating with WikiLeaks and founder Julian Assange to obtain dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton and stolen emails to Trump-Russia investigators from the House Intelligence Committee in a spin-off case from special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation.
The prosecution questioned Bannon about an email he sent to Stone after a much-hyped 2016 press conference by WikiLeaks ended up being a bit of a bust.
“What was that this morning?” Bannon asked.
Stone implied at the time that he had insider information, saying that there had been security concerns but that WikiLeaks dumps would happen once a week going forward.
In court on Friday, Bannon said he’d reached out because Stone in part as “a little bit of a heckle” but also because Stone “told me he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, so it was natural for me to reach out to him.”
“I took it from the email he sent me that he had quite detailed knowledge about what went on,” Bannon said.
WikiLeaks started releasing emails belonging to Clinton campaign manager John Podesta three days later, just hours after the damaging audio from Access Hollywood was released. Bannon told the court that the campaign referred to the day as “Billy Bush weekend,” in reference to the tapes, on which Trump referred to grabbing women “by the pussy.”
The U.S. government announced the day they were released that it believed Russia was behind the hacked Democratic email distributed by WikiLeaks, and the Intelligence Community Assessment in January 2017 affirmed that conclusion. Mueller also concluded that Russian military intelligence had carried out cyber attacks against Democratic email systems and then provided those stolen emails to WikiLeaks. The Justice Department has repeatedly defended that conclusion.
Stone, an on-again-off-again political ally and confidante of President Trump for over three decades who by the summer of 2016 was an informal adviser with Trump’s campaign, attempted to reached out to Assange, who was suspected of having tens of thousands of stolen Democratic emails. Stone also communicated with hacker Guccifer 2.0, a fictitious persona created by Russian intelligence that dealt with some of the purloined records.
Prosecutors say Stone tried to contact Assange by using conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and radio host Randy Credico as conduits, though he allegedly misled Congress in 2017 by concealing month-slong WikiLeaks discussions with Corsi, telling the committee he’d only reached out to WikiLeaks through Credico. He then allegedly worked to stop Credico from telling the House, including by calling him a “rat” and a “stoolie” and telling him to “practice your Frank Pentangeli” — a reference to a character in The Godfather: Part II who perjures himself in front of a Senate committee to protect the Corleone crime family.
DOJ argued that Stone lied to Congress “because the truth looked bad — it looked bad to the Trump campaign, and it looked bad to Donald Trump.” Stone’s lawyers countered that Stone didn’t purposely mislead the congressional committee, claiming that the investigation’s publicly-stated scope “was about what Russia was doing — not about what WikiLeaks was doing.”
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