World / Politics

Roger Stone: A shadowy provocateur of U.S. politics

AFP-JIJI

Roger Stone, who was arrested in Florida on Friday on charges of lying to Congress about his work for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, has made a career of breaking the rules as a Republican election consultant and self-avowed dirty trickster.

A dandy who sports a tattoo of his political hero Richard Nixon between his shoulder blades, the 66-year-old Stone avoided running afoul of the law over decades of helping crush Democrats with artful ruses and fake news, long before that term came in vogue.

His well-cultivated image as an eccentric master manipulator earned him a documentary, the exuberant, well-regarded “Get Me Roger Stone,” released in 2017.

But his alleged dealings with anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks as they published documents stolen by Russia and communications from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016 have placed him into choppier, hotter water than is his custom.

It could be a death blow to the career of Stone, the shadowy Machiavelli of U.S. politics who may finally have taken a step too far.

Stone declared his innocence and called the charges “politically motivated” after a court appearance in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he was arrested by a heavily armed SWAT team in a pre-dawn raid.

“They terrorized my wife, my dogs,” he declared, adding that the FBI agents were nevertheless “extraordinarily courteous.”

The dapper Stone has been a colorful feature of American politics for nearly 50 years.

He volunteered for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater when he was only 12. Eight years later, in 1972, he quit university to enlist in the re-election effort for Nixon.

He made his mark by planting a spy on the campaign of a Nixon rival, who became the candidate’s driver and stole copies of internal documents for the Republicans.

Since then, he has helped candidates from Ronald Reagan to Trump craft their messages, fend off bad news and crush foes with clever marketing and dastardly tricks.

He became known for a series of political maxims, the most famous of which were: “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack,” and “Attack, attack, attack — never defend.”

He also embraced deeply a key lesson from the 1972 campaign: that Republicans had to appeal to a base of white, middle class suburban and rural voters.

For Stone, politics was a game he loved more than most anyone.

“Politics with me isn’t theater. It’s performance art. Sometimes, for its own sake,” he said in 2007.

A forthright self-promoter and dandy, Stone keeps a massive collection of expensive suits hand-tailored for his body-builder frame, pairing them with French cuffs and perfectly knotted silk ties.

His shoes always shine, as does his hair — for years dyed blonde until, more recently, ceding to a perfect white mane.

He has heavily burnished his role in crucial events. His candidates have lost as often as won, and some in Washington’s tight circle of political consultants say he has been only a bit player since the 1980s.

But Trump took him seriously. They met in 1979 in the offices of legendary mob lawyer Roy Cohn, who schooled Stone in New York’s hardball politics, and who also worked for Trump’s real estate-developer father.

At that meeting, Stone helped Trump’s father skirt campaign donation rules to pump $200,000 illegally into Reagan’s presidential effort.

A year later, Stone joined with lawyer Paul Manafort — who became Trump’s campaign chair in 2016 — to form a Republican legal and political consultancy.

One of their first jobs was to help Trump negotiate serious legal problems regarding his megayacht.

When Trump mulled running for the White House in 2000, he called on Stone for advice. And when he finally did run in 2015, Stone was one of the first on board.

They broke in late 2015 after clashing over Trump’s gift for making outrageous statements.

But Stone remained on the campaign’s fringes, offering advice and his own public relations efforts.

That led to the charges Friday that he had lied in testimony about his role as a link between the campaign and WikiLeaks as it published Russian-purloined documents from the Clinton campaign.

True to his politics-as-entertainment perspective, following his court appearance Friday, Stone pledged his backing for Trump and struck a Nixonian pose, arms outstretched and fingers signalling victory.

“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” he told the scores of reporters waiting for him.