While Bannon was one of the most anticipated witnesses at Stone’s trial for allegedly lying to Congress about his efforts in 2016 to contact WikiLeaks, he was also one of the briefest, spending less than an hour under direct examination by prosecutors.
His testimony bolstered the government’s allegations that Stone lied to the House committee investigating Russian election interference when he denied discussing with the Trump campaign WikiLeaks’ release of emails damaging to political rival Hillary Clinton.
“He had a relationship, or told me he had a relationship with WikiLeaks,” Bannon said. “It was something I think he would frequently mention.”
“I was led to believe he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and [its founder] Julian Assange,” Bannon testified, based on Stone’s public statements and conversations going back years.
Stone and Bannon had known each other for a long time before Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August 2016, and they spoke between a half-dozen and a dozen times between then and the November election, Bannon testified.
Bannon said he discussed WikiLeaks with Stone as Stone was trying to learn more about hacked emails that might tank Clinton’s election run. The emails were stolen by Russian agents and shared with WikiLeaks, which released them at critical points in the 2016 election cycle, according to prosecutors.
After releases in summer 2016, Stone emailed Bannon, writing that “Trump can still win, but time is running out,” according to a copy of the message shown to jurors. “I know how to win, but it ain’t pretty.”
Asked what Bannon understood Stone’s email to mean, Bannon noted Stone’s claimed WikiLeaks connection and said: “Roger is an expert in the tougher side of politics. When you’re this far behind, you’re going to have to use every tool in the tool box . . . opposition research, dirty tricks, the kind of things campaigns use when you need to make up some ground.”
At one point in October 2016, when an expected revelation from Assange about Clinton emails proved to be a dud, Bannon sent Stone an email asking, “What was that this morning???”
Bannon, smiling, said on the stand that he sent the message to ask why the much-hyped disclosures did not materialize and also as “a little bit of a heckle; It was twofold.”
Stone replied that Assange was afraid for his safety but would still end up releasing damaging documents every week.
On cross-examination by Stone’s lawyer Robert Buschel, Bannon conceded that Stone never claimed to him that he had advance access to the hacked emails.
Stone, 67, listened intently, as he has throughout the trial. A longtime confidant of Trump, he has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have said any misstatements he made to Congress were unintentional.
Earlier in the day, former radio show host Randy Credico described on the witness stand how Stone urged him not to talk to Congress about their election year conversations. Credico said Stone threatened to damage the career of a close friend and even take away his dog.
Stone is also accused of witness tampering for allegedly trying to thwart Credico’s testimony to Congress. Jurors have seen Stone’s words in texts and emails, but Credico described how he understood Stone’s increasingly angry messages.
Prosecutors say Stone lied to protect the president when questioned in 2017 about WikiLeaks and the campaign. To keep the committee from unraveling those lies, prosecutors have said, Stone needed Credico to keep quiet and resorted to threats to try to ensure that.
Credico said in court Friday that Stone influenced his decision not to testify before the committee. “A lot of people played a role,” he said, “Mr. Stone among them.”
Trial evidence shows Stone texted Credico in April 2018: “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds.” Stone later added: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die.”
At one point, Stone texted Credico that he would “take that dog away from you,” according to trial evidence.
Credico said he was “sure” Stone knew how important his therapy dog Bianca was to him when he sent that message. But later when questioned by Stone’s defense lawyer, Credico said he never really feared for Bianca’s safety.
Credico said he was more concerned about jeopardizing the reputation of his friend Margaret Kuntsler, who did legal work for WikiLeaks and helped Credico land an Aug. 25, 2016, interview with Assange for his radio show. Once, on Stone’s behalf, Credico said he asked her for WikiLeaks’ help finding emails implicating Clinton in an incident in Libya. Kuntsler testified that she ignored the message, but Credico said Stone threatened to falsely name her as his “backchannel.”
Credico described Stone repeatedly asking him to “do a Frank Pentangeli,” referring to a character from “The Godfather: Part II” who is intimidated into saying at a Senate hearing that he cannot recall information he actually knows.
The defense has suggested that Stone was asking Credico to use his skills as a comic impressionist to imitate Pentangeli. Credico testified he understood the references as a direction to “throw . . . off the House Intelligence Committee.”
Credico told the jury that directive made no sense because “there’s a ton of photos and text messages. . . . If I did a Frank Pentangeli, I would look like a fool.” But Credico said he was worried that if he testified honestly, he might become the victim of “some kind of smear job” by Stone.
On cross-examination, Stone’s attorney painted Credico as a liar who made Stone believe he had a close connection to Assange. Credico readily admitted: “There were exaggerations, there were lies, there were rebuffs, yes.”
The defense tried to argue that Credico refused to testify before the House committee not because Stone threatened him but because of his own liberal political leanings.
“You did not want to be associated with the Donald Trump campaign?” Buschel asked.
“Absolutely. Would you?” Credico replied, adding later: “I did not want to be connected with Donald Trump at all.”