By Martin Matishak for Politico
Pro-Trump provocateur Roger Stone repeatedly came up in Monday’s opening hearing on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election — but leading lawmakers have indicated they’re still eager to hear from him directly.
And Stone says he would be eager to comply.
Already, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr said his panel has sent Stone a letter asking him to preserve relevant documents and communications, setting the right-wing agitator on a course to eventually come to Capitol Hill.
Stone confirmed he received the letter — which POLITICO first reported on over the weekend — in an email exchange with POLITICO on Monday. The missive is dated Feb. 17, but Stone said he received it on Friday.
“I am anxious to rebut allegations that I had any improper or nefarious contact with any agent of the Russia State based on facts not misleading and salacious headlines. Claims of Russian influence or collusion in the Trump Campaign by the Intelligence Community are backed up by ZERO evidence,” Stone said in an email.
While leading lawmakers have been mostly coy about which Trump associates they plan to call in their probes of alleged Russian influence, they are willing to break their silence when it comes to Stone. That’s because the fringe Trump adviser has repeatedly drawn attention to his role in the alleged Russian hacks that destabilized the race and undermined Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Listen, if we’re investigating Russian interference, here’s someone who’s acknowledged he’s been in contact with the Russians,” said Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate
Intelligence Committee, told reporters last week.
It “absolutely” makes sense to bring him in, Warner added.
Unlike other Trump aides, Stone has freely discussed his communications with Moscow-linked affiliates, including “Guccifer 2.0” — the hacker persona U.S. intelligence officials believe was a Russian front to launder stolen documents, but who Stone is not convinced is a Moscow asset — and WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy site that published personal emails stolen from Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta.
Stone even cryptically tweeted about Podesta two weeks before the Clinton aide’s emails were dumped online, although Stone insists he did not know a leak was on the horizon and that the tweet was actually about an article he wrote on Podesta and his brother.
Still, between the Podesta prediction and acknowledging he’d had contact with groups that helped disseminate stolen documents, Stone has “hit the trifecta,” Warner said.
“There’s certainly a lot of questions that I would like to ask him,” agreed Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
On Monday, Schiff placed Stone front-and-center as he questioned FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers.
Schiff made the most of his opportunity Monday during the committee’s first public hearing of its probe into whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow officials on the alleged digital meddling campaign that bruised Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The lawmaker pressed Comey on whether he knew who Stone is and if he was aware of Stone’s interactions with suspected hackers.
Comey said he was “generally” aware of who Stone is but wouldn’t comment on his reported activities.
“I'm worried we're going to a place I don't want to go, which is commenting on any particular person,” Comey added. “So I don't think I should comment. I'm aware of public accounts.”
Comey later said Schiff had the “correct chronology” in terms of Stone predicting the Podesta emails.
Schiff wasn’t the only lawmaker to mention Stone during Monday’s hearing.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) described a spider-web with Putin as the “tarantula in the middle” who is “entrapping many people to do his bidding and to engage with him” including Stone.
Yet despite the bipartisan consensus among lawmakers that they, at some point, would like Stone to appear before their committees, it’s unclear what, if anything, the longtime GOP operative would actually add to their investigations.
Stone’s position within the Trump campaign hierarchy was never concretely defined, raising questions about what level of access he enjoyed.
On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer described Stone and Trump as having "a long relationship, going back years, where he would provide counsel."
But Stone, according to Spicer, only "worked briefly on the campaign I think until about August of 2015, from recollection." He added that the duo "have talked from time to time, but I don’t think any time recently."
Stone, who is in the midst of promoting a book on last year’s election, has a ready explanation for each action that has drawn the attention of lawmakers. He will gladly share them if asked.
“I don’t have to be subpoenaed,” Stone told POLITICO in an interview last week. “I’d come voluntarily, but if they want to issue a subpoena to get a headline, that’s fine, too. I’m anxious to speak, the sooner the better. I would like to put an end to this myth about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
But Stone has made a variety of claims since Election Day that could make lawmakers circumspect about his value as a witness and his motives for wanting to appear on Capitol Hill.
Right around the time the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would examine the alleged Russian cyberattacks, Stone claimed he was poisoned with polonium — the same radioactive material used to kill a former KGB spy in 2006.
Then in Florida this past week, Stone said he was a passenger in a vehicle struck in a hit-and-run collision, an accident he believes was deliberate as it occurred the same day Nunes and Schiff weighed in on the possibility of his testimony.
“It’s conceivable that someone does not want me to testify,” he said, claiming that the other vehicle struck directly where he was sitting and that a witness at the scene said the temporary license plate on the other car was fake.
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The sheriff report of the incident doesn’t mention Stone’s involvement, but Stone said that’s because he left the scene in an Uber.
A potential upside to bringing in Stone — for both Republicans and Democrats examining Russia’s digital tampering — is that his testimony offers more evidence that Congress is making progress on probing the possible connections between the Trump camp and Moscow, a sticking point that nearly derailed the Senate’s inquiry.
Unlike Paul Manafort, Trump’s second campaign manager who is suspected to have long-standing ties ties to pro-Russian interests in Ukraine, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was pushed out of his highly-sensitive post for misleading colleagues about communications he had with a top Russian diplomat, Stone represents a potentially far less complex witness.
Nunes would be happy to hear from any of them.
“If these people want to come forward to our committee they’re welcome to and they’re welcome to provide either depositions [or] written testimony,” he said. “That remains the case.”
“But as I’ve said we’re not going to just call in witnesses based on just press reports alone,” Nunes added.
Depending on when he’s called, Stone’s appearance could be the first in a parade of Trump associates to appear before Congress.
“I’d like Roger Stone. I’d like Carter Page. I’d like the head of Donald Trump’s security team in front of the committee,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, the top Democrat on House Intelligence Committee’s CIA subpanel, referring to another Trump adviser who met with Russian officials.
“People who are in his orbit who have personal political or financial ties to Russia, we’d like to see them before the committee,” Swalwell added, before mentioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions and J.D. Gordon, another former Trump campaign adviser.
Sessions recused himself from any Justice Department investigations related to the election after it was revealed he met twice with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, when he served as a Trump surrogate. Gordon, who played a small role in crafting the Republican Party’s platform, has admitted he and other Trump personnel also met with the Russian ambassador during the Republican National Convention.
The document sent to Stone requests he retain pertinent documents from the campaign.
However, Burr said there is no timeline yet for bringing in Stone.
“Sometimes the people that want to talk the most are not the ones who are the most valuable,” he said.