By David Segal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Roger Stone has been accused of some nasty and colorful acts of political skulduggery during his 36-year career as a GOP operative, and to most of those accusations he will happily plead guilty as charged. But the latest, and perhaps nastiest, allegation is one that he flat-out denies.
No, he insists, that is not his voice on an answering-machine message left a few weeks ago for Bernard Spitzer, the 83-year-old father of the Democratic governor of New York. Nope, that is not Stone denouncing the governor as a "phony" and a "psycho" and using an earthy adjective that can't be printed in this newspaper. And seriously, that is not Stone predicting that unless the elder Spitzer cooperates in a possible investigation into campaign loans he made to his son in 1994, "you will be arrested and brought to Albany."
Nuh-uh. Even if private investigators say the call came from Stone's home phone number.
"What would it achieve, a phone call like that?" asks Stone, speaking from Venice Beach, Calif., where he is vacationing this week with his wife. "What would be my motive? Would I make a call like that from my own, unblocked home phone? Of course not. It doesn't make any sense."
No, it does not. And yet the recording, which could be heard on the Web sites of several New York newspapers earlier this week, sure sounds like Roger Stone. It's not just the tone and timbre -- a carefully enunciated, low-boil style of speaking. It's the text. For decades, Stone has been the GOP's dapper pugilist, strutting from campaign to campaign, from one lobbying gig to another, eager to pound an opponent by whatever means allowed by the law.
Everything about the man, right down to his hand-sewn double-breasted suits, bespeaks a figure from another age -- an age that is both more civilized and less civilized, one with refinements but without so many damn rules. He started as a 19-year-old, the youngest of Nixon's "dirty tricksters," and over the years he's worked, in one capacity or another, for Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, then-New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, among other politicians, and a whole lot of access-seeking corporations.
In June, Stone was hired to help the state Senate Republican Campaign Committee land some haymakers on Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who has been bruising the GOP ever since he took office in January. As part of that effort, Stone has been trying, without much success, to draw media attention to a father-to-son loan of $4.3 million, made during Spitzer the Younger's first and unsuccessful run for attorney general -- a loan that Stone has told anyone who will listen has never been properly accounted for.
Needless to say, the legality of that loan wasn't much debated this week. Nor did you hear much in recent days about a Spitzer-tainting scandal, known as Choppergate, which broke a few weeks ago and which involves two aides to the governor who improperly used the police in an attempt to discredit GOP Senate leader and Spitzer arch-rival Joseph Bruno. Until Tuesday, Bruno had been playing offense for the first time since Spitzer came to town, but by Wednesday he was busy forcing Stone to resign.
This left Stone, 55, with plenty of time to come up with alibis. Which do not lack flair. Or variety. Or adamancy.
"I am talking to a voice-recognition expert in Washington, and I will take a polygraph to prove that is not my voice," Stone said, between puffs of a cigar on Thursday afternoon. "I am going to demonstrate that that is not me."
* * *
Initially, Stone suggested that someone could well have broken into his home and made that call; he noted that the New York apartment building where he lives is owned by a Spitzer supporter and fundraiser. He also said that he was at the theater on the Monday night when the call was made, although he withdrew that when bloggers noted that the play in question is dark on Monday nights. Stone also suggested that the call could have been from someone using "spoofing" technology that can make it look as though the call came from Stone's home.
As for the uncanny resemblance of the message leaver to Stone's own voice? Well, he said, that could well have been the handiwork of a cut-and-paste job, spliced from his many TV appearances, courtesy of high-end editing software. Some of the words could have come from phone taps, too.
On Thursday, Stone offered yet another explanation: The call, he said, was made by a former stand-up comedian and master impressionist named Randy Credico.
"He's been on Letterman, he's been on Leno," says Stone. "He does an incredible [former senator Alfonse] D'Amato. He has made phone calls as me and the people he was calling thought it was me."
The motive? Well, Credico left the stand-up comedy business to become an activist in New York politics, and he and Stone were friends and worked together on a campaign for a few months. Then, in 2003, Credico introduced Al Sharpton to Stone and those two hit it off. So much so that Stone got heavily involved in advising Sharpton during his 2004 run for president. (The Village Voice, in a lengthy investigative piece, said that Stone loaned money to Sharpton's campaign and even let the candidate use his credit card -- all of which Stone denies.) There was a suspicion that Stone was mostly interested in torpedoing the Democrats' chances for the White House by promoting Sharpton, another charge Stone denies. ("Roger Stone can't talk to a social friend of his?" he asks).
It's a tangled tale, but the upshot, Stone says, is this: "Credico became convinced that he should get paid for introducing me to Sharpton." He refused to do so, Stone continues, because, well, Credico is a cocaine addict and Stone knew that any money he gave the guy would "go up his nose."
That's right, Credico is still sore about getting stiffed on an intro fee. And he harbors that resentment until 10 p.m. on Aug. 6, at which time, he calls Bernard Spitzer and leaves a message, doing a spot-on impersonation of Stone, using technology to make it look like the call came from Stone's apartment.
Talk about sweet revenge!
"That's hilarious," says Credico, reached by phone yesterday in Florida, where he was attending a memorial service. "I am absolutely denying it. I mean, he does have an easy voice to do, but I haven't heard him or seen him for years, and if that's me, I am the greatest impressionist in the history of the art form."
Yes, he says, he and Stone had a falling out, but it wasn't over money -- it was over the direction of the Sharpton campaign. And for the record, he adds, he's a Joe Bruno backer and a Spitzer hater, because Spitzer is too pro-Iraq war for his tastes.
Okay, but can you just do a little bit of Roger Stone? Just, you know, for fun?
"I can't even give it a shot!" he says. "I mean, if I were to listen to him for a while, I could. But I just haven't heard his voice. I understand why I'd be a great alibi, and I can't tell you for sure that that is Roger's voice on that tape. But I know it's not me."
* * *
It's hard to say which group of political hands has been most delighted by the Stone Cold Call. But it would be hard to top the giddiness of Stone's rival Republican consultants and pols, many of whom were calling each other this week to savor the news. Everything about Stone seems to grate on them: his clothing; his penchant, they say, for exaggerating his connections to the powerful; his Machiavellian streak; his reluctance to actually serve in any kind of government position, favoring jobs that will make him the fastest money; his daredevil love for the line that separates the bare-knuckled from the insane.
"He has a tendency to play Russian roulette with five bullets in the gun," says Ed Rollins, a longtime Republican consultant. "He's got a tendency to set himself on fire from time to time."
Most memorably, there was a 1996 story in the National Enquirer, reporting that he and his wife had placed notices in magazines and on Web sites in search of swingers. Stone denied it, was forced to resign from the Bob Dole presidential campaign -- which he was then advising -- and went on "Good Morning America" to clear his name:
"An exhaustive investigation now indicates that a domestic employee who I discharged for substance abuse on the second time that we learned that he had a drug problem is the perpetrator who had access to my home, access to my computer, access to my password, access to my postage meter, access to my post-office box key."
For long stretches of Stone's career, it should be noted, he has worked without having to defend himself against humiliating accusations. Rollins hired Stone to handle parts of the Northeast during Reagan's 1980 and '84 campaigns, but he made sure that a trusted ally was never far away, to keep an eye on the guy. Other bosses have offered very favorable reviews, among them Tom Kean, who called Stone dependable, totally committed and very smart.
In the '80s, Stone parlayed his connections, however strong, to the Reagan administration into lobbying and consulting gold as a partner in the D.C. firm Black Manafort Stone & Kelly. The company had links to clients such as the government of Nigeria and former Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos. Stone cultivated a reputation with Washington reporters as a chatty source, and drove a Citroen. He became a Certified Washington Character, memorialized in a 1985 cover story in the New Republic titled "The State of the Art Washington Sleazebag." He later claimed he loved the story because it enhanced his profile.
More recently, he has been credited in books with orchestrating the so-called "Brooks Brothers Riot" at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse during the 2000 election recount in Florida, widely considered a turning point in that drama. He would later claim that the goodwill he earned with Bush administration officials in the Sunshine State led to connections with the Interior Department, which in turn led to some lucrative deals advising Indian tribes on casinos. He lives in Miami Beach and keeps an apartment in New York.
"I have a wife, five dogs and I drive a Jaguar XJR, which I'm about to have repainted," he says.
The why-oh-why question that both detractors and fans are now asking about the Bernard Spitzer call is better left to the shrinks. Let us note here only that Stone has been mixing politics and chicanery for so long that the combination seems woven into his DNA. He was raised in rural Lewisboro, N.Y., the son of a well digger and a mom who wrote for a local newspaper. He became obsessed with politics as a kid when a neighbor handed him "The Conscience of a Conservative," by Barry Goldwater. He was 11 years old and a game of catch was, apparently, not a possibility.
"Well, you have to understand, there were no kids my age, male or female, for 25 miles. I suppose I could have thrown a football with my dad," Stone says, "but my old man left at 5 a.m. and came back at 9 p.m. But he ate his supper and fell to bed and he was covered with grease from head to foot and he never complained a day in his life. You have to amuse yourself."
Stone did. In the 1960 election -- before he could spell the word "ideology" -- his school held a mock vote. He was a Kennedy fan and he campaigned for the guy just the way he would for others in the future.
"I remember going through the cafeteria line and telling every kid that Nixon was in favor of school on Saturdays," Stone says. "It was my first political trick."
Kennedy won, in a landslide.