The cause of Stone’s downfall is the really striking part of the latest chapter in his astonishing story. After decades of smashing norms, he is finally going to prison because of his fidelity to an ideal of friendship that the friend in question likely doesn’t return.
For those unacquainted with Stone, whom writer Jeffrey Toobin calls the “sinister Forrest Gump of American politics” in our film, he is a self-described “agent provocateur.” He proudly takes credit for his pioneering role in saturating our elections with negative ads; ushering unlimited outside money into our politics by starting the first super PAC; profiting off of representing brutal Third World dictators’ interests in Washington; and transforming K Street by trampling on the lofty notion that it is unethical for campaign operatives to make money lobbying the candidates they helped elect.
When Stone first granted us intimate access to him in 2011, he was a down-and-out political operative, more a historical figure than an active player. By the time we concluded filming in 2017, Stone had shocked the world by triumphing in his 29-year-long quest to make Donald Trump president of the United States. The moment seemed like the culmination of a lifelong devotion.
Stone was the first person ever to suggest to Trump he seek the White House. And though he failed to persuade Trump to run in 1988, Stone became Trump’s closest political adviser and prodded him every four years to change his mind until he finally prevailed in 2015.
The relationship was defining, at least for Stone. In an interview we conducted for our film, Stone’s first wife, Ann, said Stone and Trump have “been married and divorced more times than I can count.” Her observation reflects both the intimacy of Trump and Stone’s relationship and its volatility. Though Stone laid the groundwork for Trump’s 2016 bid, inevitably Trump and Stone’s mammoth personalities caused them once again to feud; Stone was ousted from the campaign less than two months after its kickoff.
Being cast to the periphery of a campaign he had dreamed about for decades tortured Stone. He reacted like a jilted lover desperate to be taken back — even after he got his former partner Paul Manafort hired as Trump’s campaign chairman. To woo Trump’s attention, Stone claimed he had a secret backchannel to WikiLeaks and insider knowledge of when it would release information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Our interactions with Stone at that time made us seriously doubt he was communicating with WikiLeaks in any significant way, which turned out to be the case. But the Trump campaign was struggling so badly, it was willing to hear out Stone on the off chance he had the goods.
The WikiLeaks connection that Stone concocted wound up being his undoing. To maintain the charade and obscure the Trump campaign’s receptivity to his overtures, Stone lied to Congress and threatened his on-again-off-again friend Randy Credico to go along with his clumsy ruse.
It didn’t have to end this way for Stone. When he lied to Congress, Stone was appearing on his own volition and could have easily changed his public story to skirt any danger to himself. Instead, he provided prosecutors with an easily demonstrable paper trail to convict him of his crimes. All because he apparently wanted to protect Trump and his standing with his old friend.
Now the question is whether Trump will reward Stone’s decades of fierce loyalty with a presidential pardon. Stone has reason to fear the worst. At a vulnerable moment in one of our interviews, Stone surprised us by rejecting the idea that Trump was one of his closest friends. He said essentially that he was unworthy of the distinction because Trump was better than him, an admission that shocked us given Stone’s titanic narcissism. It also intimated to us that Stone knew Trump did not prize his friendship the way he did.
That Stone appears to be reduced to appealing to his old friend for a pardon through an appearance by his daughter on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show suggests he may have been right. Roger Stone, a man who believes morality is a weakness, was ultimately brought down by friendship and loyalty.