If Roger Stone and Michael Caputo told investigators what they said publicly, they could have real problems.
The Washington Post's Manuel Roig-Franzia and Rosalind S. Helderman broke a significant story Sunday that added to the list of undisclosed meetings between Russians and President Trump's confidants. This one involves informal Trump adviser Stone meeting in May 2016 with a Russian who — you guessed it — was offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. The meeting was arranged by Caputo, an official member of Trump's campaign who had previously worked in Russia.
The long and the short of it, according to Stone and Caputo, is that the man, Henry Greenberg, was requesting lots of money for the information — $2 million — and nothing was ultimately exchanged. Contemporaneous text messages back up that contention. So, much like that Trump Tower meeting, whatever the intentions were, it seems the relationship never came to fruition. It's yet another mysteriously obscured contact with Russians, and it's perhaps yet another collusion gray area.
But unlike other previously undisclosed meetings, this one was very, very clearly denied — and repeatedly — by both parties. It was also apparently denied in or at least omitted from their testimonies to congressional investigators. Although someone like Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have a credible argument that his denials of contact with Russians were the results of misunderstandings, Stone's and Caputo's denials were ironclad.
“I didn’t talk to anybody who was identifiably Russian during the two-year run-up to this campaign,” Stone told The Post in April 2017. “I very definitely can’t think of anybody who might have been a Russian without my knowledge. It’s a canard.”
Stone reasserted this in a March interview with Chuck Todd. “I never had any contact with any Russians,” he said.
While Stone denied such a contact publicly, Caputo went a step further, saying in emphatic and unmistakable terms that he told the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contact with Russians.
“I spent my time in front of the committee detailing the fact that I had no contact with Russians, that I never heard of anyone with the Trump campaign talking with Russians, that I was never asked questions about my time in Russia, that I never even spoke to anyone about Russia, that I never heard the word 'Russia,' and we did not use Russian dressing,” he said in July.
These denials so contradict what we just found out, in fact, that neither man is trying to parse them to square them with the new information. Instead both — rather remarkably — contend that they simply forgot about the Greenberg proffer until special counsel Robert S. Mueller III reminded them last month. And now both are amending their testimony.
Stone and Caputo said in separate interviews that they did not disclose the Greenberg meeting during testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence because they had forgotten about an incident that Stone calls unimportant “due diligence” that would have been “political malpractice” not to explore.
Caputo said that he was asked during a session with the committee in July whether he’d ever been offered information about the Clinton campaign by a Russian, and he either answered “no” or that he could not recall.
However, Stone and Caputo said their memories were refreshed by text messages that Caputo said he no longer has in his possession but was shown during a May 2 interview.
It's impossible to get inside either man's head, but the idea that both forgot about this meeting warrants skepticism. Both men interviewed with the House Intelligence Committee about Russia, under penalty of perjury, and they didn't even do an inventory of their contacts with Russians? Greenberg was apparently a colorful enough character for Caputo to remark, “How crazy is the Russian?” and to refer to him as “Russian” twice, but he then forgot about the whole thing?
Whether either man actually lied under oath and whether they might be held accountable are two very significant questions — and ones that could have different answers. The testimony at issue here was delivered to the House Intelligence Committee, which has been conducting the friendliest investigation to Trump. Ranking member Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) is trying to get its transcripts sent to Mueller.
Caputo also maintained on CNN that he thought the man was “an American citizen of Russian descent.” He added: “I had no reason to believe that; I just assumed it.” But that doesn't change the fact that their denials have been obliterated — more so than perhaps any previous denials of Russian contacts by Trump confidants. The men didn't just deny contact with Russians; they excluded the possibility that one might have happened that they weren't fully conscious of. Their public denials weren't “I don't recall”; they were “It didn't happen.”
And it's pretty clear what's happening here. This is something that, judging by their conversations with Mueller, they knew was going to come out eventually. And now they have a narrative into which they can insert it, thanks to Trump's baseless claims about the FBI “spying” on his campaign via an informant. Stone and Caputo are pitching this as a potential setup featuring a man who appears to have worked as an FBI informant in the past (though he denies it in this case). Both are referring the situation to the Justice Department, where Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein has acceded to Trump's demand that it look into the use of informants in the Russia investigation.
So, politically speaking, this is now serving a purpose for Stone and Caputo in a way it wouldn't have even a month ago. It furthers the idea that this was a “witch hunt.” But whatever transpired before or during that apparently strange meeting with Greenberg and whatever legal accountability there may or may not be, it doesn't change that it looks significantly more like there was a coverup than it did 24 hours ago.