Friday, April 22, 2016

The Return of Roger Stone

By Dylan Byers

Roger Stone loves resilience. It's why the former body builder had Richard Nixon's face tattooed on his broad back.

"It's there to remind me that in life, when things don't go your way, you get back in the game," Stone said in an interview with CNN. "Nixon said, 'A man is not finished when he's defeated, he's only finished when he quits.'"

When it comes to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential bid, things did not initially go Stone's way. He had one vision for the campaign; Trump had another. But after leaving in August, Stone is back, in a manner of speaking. With the Republicans potentially facing a contested convention, his brand of political trench warfare is now in greater demand than ever.

Late last month, Trump appointed veteran GOP strategist and lobbyist Paul Manafort -- Stone's longtime friend and business partner, dating back to the Reagan years -- to lead his fight for delegates. Sources close to all three men say Stone played a role in that appointment, which gave him a new lifeline into Trump's campaign.

Stone also heads "The Committee to Restore America's Greatness," a pro-Trump super PAC that has redirected its mission "to help stop the Republican establishment from stealing the Presidential nomination" from Trump -- which, of course, will be the campaign's chief preoccupation between now and the Republican convention in late July.

The campaign changes come as Trump has repeatedly charged that the nominating process is "rigged" to block him, a statement Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed as "hyperbole" in an interview with CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

But Stone's most significant role will likely take place this summer in Cleveland. In a contested convention, his mastery of political dark arts could prove instrumental in securing the delegates that Trump needs. He has been to every Republican convention since 1964, and he's worked the floor at every convention since 1972. And even he readily admits that he is capable of employing tactics other operatives wouldn't dream of, let alone try.

While Trump and his campaign can claim no connection with Stone -- after all, he left the campaign last August -- those who know the two men say that they speak regularly, and that Stone is an influential voice in Trump's ear.

"Roger is never too far away from Trump ... He's always talking to Donald," a source close to both men said. "Roger and Trump always wind up finding their way back to each other," said another.
Of his contacts with the front-running candidate, Stone says, "I talk to Trump from time to time, but not every day. I don't even necessarily talk to him every week."

Stone's resurgence worries Trump's competitors, who appear to fear his role in the delegate fight and at the convention. Last week at a CNN town hall meeting, Senator Ted Cruz said Stone was "pulling the strings on Donald Trump. He planned the Trump campaign, and he is Trump's henchman and dirty trickster."

The "dirty trickster" charge is one Stone is familiar with: He was Nixon's "dirty trickster" before he was Reagan's "dirty trickster" before he was George H.W. Bush's "dirty trickster." In 2000, he helped George W. Bush in the Florida recount effort by working with local media and Spanish-language press to amplify pro-Bush efforts to shut down the recount in Miami-Dade County, and he later claimed to have obtained the frequencies of walkie-talkies that Democrats were using to communicate so he could listen in on their plans. He has also claimed that he was first to learn about Eliot Spitzer's affairs with call girls, which ultimately led to his resignation as Governor of New York.

"One man's dirty trick is another man's civic participation," said Stone.

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