All we have to go on to believe that longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone had dinner with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in August 2016 is, well, his saying that he did.
In an email sent to another longtime Trump loyalist, Sam Nunberg, Stone wrote, “I dined with my new pal Julian Assange last nite.” Since the Wall Street Journal first reported on that email, Stone’s argued that the whole thing was just a joke, part of a recurring bit of banter between himself and Nunberg. Were that his only defense, it would be fair to assume that it was the email assertion that was valid, not the denial. But this is not Stone’s only defense.
The email as sent at 9 p.m. Eastern on Aug. 4, meaning that Stone’s alleged dinner would have happened on the 3rd. Stone provided the Daily Caller with credit card and hotel records showing that he flew from New York to Los Angeles on Aug. 1 and then on a red-eye from L.A. to Miami on the night of the 3rd. That matches with a comment he made to Infowars during an appearance on the conspiracy-hawking program on the 4th. CNN reports that he told host Alex Jones that he’d flown in from Los Angeles.
What’s more, it’s worth noting that having dinner with Assange is no trivial thing. As we noted Monday, Assange is in refuge at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, risking arrest were he to leave. That means that anyone hoping to have dinner with him would almost certainly need to visit the embassy to do so, which complicates things. Oh, and there’s the issue of WikiLeaks and Assange having repeatedly denied having met with Stone, including shortly after the alleged meeting in a private chat among WikiLeaks and its supporters.
On Wednesday morning, One America News’ Trey Yingst obtained a copy of the email between Stone and Nunberg.
The exchange goes like this:
- Nunberg sends Stone a poll showing Hillary Clinton leading Trump by 15 points. Nunberg was fired by the Trump campaign in early 2015 and felt slighted by his treatment after being ousted. Given Stone’s commitment to Trump, the implication, then, is that Nunberg was throwing this poll in Stone’s face.
- To that end, Stone responds with “enjoy it while u can.” Then he makes his comment about dining with Assange.
- Nunberg asks for Assange’s email “for his records.”
Stone told The Post that he’d claimed to know Assange in conversations with Nunberg as a joke, a claim he reiterated to the Daily Caller. Maybe Nunberg believed him and wanted Assange’s email; maybe Nunberg, in on the joke, demanded Assange’s (unprovidable) email as proof of Stone’s claims.
If we assume that Stone didn’t actually meet with Assange — again, the safest default assumption — his response to Nunberg takes on a different and perhaps more significant light.
It was late July 2016 when WikiLeaks began releasing files stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Assange had teased possession of documents incriminating Clinton on a TV broadcast in mid-June, shortly before someone calling himself “Guccifer 2.0″ leaked several files from the DNC.
The first time Stone publicly hinted at any connection to Assange was on Aug. 4, in that Infowars interview. CNN reports that during that discussion, Stone insisted that the Clinton campaign was accusing Trump of kowtowing to Russia because it “know[s] what is coming and it is devastating.”
“Let’s remember that their defense to all the Clinton Foundation scandals is not that ‘we didn’t do,’ but ‘you have no proof, yes, but you have no proof’,” he said. “I think Julian Assange has that proof, and I think he is going to furnish it for the American people.”
On Aug. 5, he writes an essay for Breitbart saying that Guccifer 2.0, not Russia, was responsible for the DNC hacks. Even before the hacked material was released, The Post reported that Russia had accessed the party’s network. As it turns out, Stone’s distinction between Guccifer and Russia was meaningless anyway: Guccifer was recently revealed as a Russian intelligence agent.
On Aug. 9, Stone told a Republican group in Florida that he’d been in contact with Assange — and that he believed “the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation.” After that claim became public, WikiLeaks denied having had any direct communication with Stone.
Let’s take a step back and talk about Stone for a moment. Stone is a longtime political consultant and lobbyist whose reputation was built on a willingness to play dirty. While he has insisted that he never lies, that’s undercut by repeated assertions during the campaign that he’d been in contact with Assange, contacts he now denies. Perhaps, then, Stone thought that he could both undercut the Clinton campaign’s questions about Russia (by downplaying Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack) but also cast doubt on defenses of the Clinton Foundation (by claiming to know about damning revelations that were imminent). That would be very much in character.
That’s one way to read the email to Nunberg: Enjoy Clinton’s lead while it exists, but my contact with Assange means that lead will soon fade. It’s tough to argue with that! How do you rebut a claim that someone has seen incriminating documents that aren’t public? Point, Stone.
Note that Stone’s assertions to Infowars and that Republican group were about documents incriminating the Clinton Foundation — documents that never came to fruition.
Later predictions seemed to be more accurate. A few weeks later, Stone claimed that it would “soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” After WikiLeaks began releasing documents stolen from Podesta in early October, this was seen as prescient. Stone, though, claims that he was referring to “the Podestas” — meaning John and his brother Tony, a lobbyist. Tony was included in the WikiLeaks documents, but the Podestas weren’t the focus of the documents.
After those documents were released by WikiLeaks — shortly after a spate of tweets from Stone predicting an upcoming WikiLeaks release — Stone claimed that his connection to Assange was indirect, through mutual friend Randy Credico, a New York radio host. Credico denied it.
This is the ongoing question. Did Stone have some way of knowing what WikiLeaks possessed? When did he learn about it? What was the connection?
The purported dinner would be very important if it had happened. There’s not much evidence that it did. But Stone successfully demonstrating that his email was just a joke doesn’t absolve him of the more serious questions about why he happened to claim to know things that seemingly turned out to be true.