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Roger Stone testifies he’s been falsely accused of collusion

Roger Stone testifies he’s been falsely accused of collusion
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Roger Stone, a longtime friend and former campaign adviser to President Trump, told House Intelligence Committee lawmakers on Tuesday that he has been falsely accused of colluding with Russia.

Stone entered the committee’s secure spaces shortly before 9 a.m., slinging a Louis Vuitton tote bag, trailing a cameraman for the conspiracy website Infowars and vowing only to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

He answered questions for more than three hours behind closed doors, refusing to provide only one piece of information: the name of an intermediary through whom he says he communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

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The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGOP targets likely Dem committee chairmen in midterm push GOP Rep to top-ranking Dem who accused him of bigotry: 'Apologize to my children' The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia MORE (Calif.), has already threatened to subpoena Stone for failing to answer questions on “one significant area of seminal importance to the committee.”

Democrats have been keen to press Stone on his communications with Assange and the Russian online persona Guccifer 2.0, as well as a tweet that suggested he had advance knowledge of the hack of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Republicans cancel airtime in swing Vegas district The Democratic Donald Trump is coming MORE’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Stone, a famously flamboyant political flamethrower, has been eager to testify.

In a sprawling opening statement released to the press on Monday night, he accused the committee of “cowardice” for denying him the opportunity to either appear in public or release a transcript of his interview.

When he emerged from the interview on Tuesday afternoon, Stone said that he had “correct[ed] a number of the things that members of the committee had said about me” — but allowed that he believed some members of the panel didn’t “buy my claims.”

“A fair amount” of the questions were related to his communications with Assange, mostly from committee Democrats, Stone said.

The Republican leading the investigation, Rep. Mike Conaway (Texas), said only that Stone’s description of the meeting was “very accurate.” Committee member Peter King (R-N.Y.) described the interview as “businesslike” and “cordial.”

Stone provided a few other details about the byzantine investigations engulfing Trump allies. He said that he has not been contacted by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the Justice Department's investigation into Russian election meddling.

He also said that counsel for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had contacted his own lawyers to tell them that he expected to be indicted in the federal probe.

By the time Stone stepped up to the microphone to recap his testimony — to give reporters “the opportunity to see fine English tailoring,” he joked — much of his defense had already been made public the night before.

In his combative and aggrieved opening statement spanning almost 30 pages, Stone demanded apologies from lawmakers from both parties who have pursued the Russia investigation on Capitol Hill — as well as from Clinton.

He accused intelligence agencies of becoming “politicized," called the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) a “yet unproven allegation” and cited a widely-debunked article in The Nation magazine that cast doubt on Moscow being behind the hack.

“On the basis of this report, I tend to believe it was an inside job,” he told reporters Tuesday.

In a point-by-point rebuttal of much of the speculation surrounding Stone, the fiery GOP operative insisted that “I do not have and I’ve never had any relationship with Russia or any Russian entity.”

Some lawmakers have suggested that Stone's Twitter feed shows evidence of coordination with WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy platform that published the stolen Democratic emails the intelligence community believes were provided by Russia.

On Aug. 21, before emails from Clinton's campaign chief were leaked, Stone tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.”

Stone wrote in his statement that the tweet referred instead to knowledge of Podesta’s business dealings based on the Panama Papers, the massive 2015 leak of documents from international law firm and corporate services provider Mossack Fonseca.

He also fiercely denies having any advance knowledge of the DNC dumps. He has in the past claimed to have contact with Assange through “an intermediary,” which he disclosed Tuesday to be a journalist — but would not identify further.

“I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange and have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist,” he wrote.

He told reporters after the interview that he was silent only to protect his source and that he planned to seek permission from the journalist to identify him to the committee.  

It’s unclear whether the committee will move to subpoena Stone to reveal his source. Florida Republican Tom Rooney, who is one of two panel members helping Conaway lead the probe, is dubious that the committee needs to know.

“I'm always open to relevant witnesses or testimony," he told The Hill, but added, “I'm not sure what value the source of a person who testified to know nothing much of anything would be.”

Stone also characterized his communications with the online persona Guccifer 2.0 — believed by intelligence officials to be a Russian front — as “benign.”

Stone drew a few supporters to the Capitol basement early, including the pro-Trump activist often seen at Trump rallies wearing a “Blacks for Trump” T-shirt. (He did not have the proper credentials and was asked to leave by Capitol police shortly after arriving.)

But he said that he had not discussed his testimony with Trump, his friend of 40 years. He added that he was “not even sure that he was aware that I was testifying today.”

He reiterated his argument that by requiring witnesses to testify behind closed doors, the committee is allowing members to smear them in public “without any basis in fact” or opportunity for rebuttal.

“I can assure each of you, I will not let myself be a punching bag for people with ill intentions or political motives,” he wrote Monday. “Understand, I will expose the truth in every forum and on every platform available to me.”

And the interview did not change his core belief that the investigation is an “entirely political exercise,” he told reporters.

“I am left to conclude that the president is right when he calls this congressional investigation a ‘witchhunt,’ ” he wrote.

Rooney suggested that subpoenaing Stone would be a distraction from the committee’s central mission.

“We really need to be zeroing in a thesis here or we could be spinning our wheels forever. We've been doing this for seven months,” he said.

“I'd really like to start looking for an endgame sometime this fall, make our recommendations to the intelligence community on how they can better do there job and get back to our normal committee functions.”

This story was updated at 6:20 p.m.