Steve Bannon, the chief executive of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, told a jury that he saw the longtime Republican operative and Trump champion Roger Stone as the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks and its trove of stolen documents on rival Hillary Clinton.
It was the first time in Stone’s criminal trial a senior campaign official testified that Stone, accused of lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks, touted his “relationship” with the organization and its founder Julian Assange and implied he could get dirt on Clinton from them.
Stone, 67, is charged with lying to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 as the panel investigated Russian interference in the election. He is also charged with obstruction of the panel’s probe and with witness tampering.
Prosecutors claim he falsely testified to the committee that he didn’t have emails with third parties about WikiLeaks and that he lied about the use of an intermediary to contact the group. In fact, they allege, he had reams of emails and texts and used conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi as a go-between, then pretended that role was filled instead by radio host Randy Credico.
Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Marando, Bannon began his testimony by briefly recounting his stint as CEO of Trump’s campaign, working from the 14th floor of Trump Tower. By then, he told the jury, he knew Stone as a political operative and author he’d met years earlier when Bannon was executive chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News. His discussions with Stone occurred “every couple of weeks,” he said.
In spring or summer of 2016, Bannon testified, Stone told him that “he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.” Stone suggested he could get information from them, Bannon said, citing an email in which Stone said WikiLeaks had emails about Clinton.The prosecutor pressed Bannon on whether the campaign viewed Stone as its “access point” to WikiLeaks. Bannon appeared to balk.“I don’t think we had one,” he said.At that point, Marando confronted Bannon with his earlier testimony to the grand jury convened by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe of Russian meddling in the election. Bannon had told the grand jury “it was generally believed” that Stone was the campaign’s access point.
“The campaign had no official access point to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange,” Bannon said later, during cross examination by Stone’s lawyer. He said Stone was considered the access point because he had claimed the role.
Dressed in a dark sports jacket and open-neck shirt, Bannon said during his brief testimony that he wouldn’t have appeared in court voluntarily and was doing so only in response to a subpoena.
Earlier Friday, Credico, under grilling by Stone’s lawyer, emphatically denied being a conduit to WikiLeaks. For nearly 90 minutes, defense attorney Robert Buschel challenged earlier testimony by Credico to show that Stone had reason to tell the House panel that the comic had been his source for public statements he made about WikiLeaks as it was releasing the documents.
Credico would not cooperate, evading Buschel’s questions and at times talking over the lawyer -- prompting warnings from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
Buschel revisited admissions Credico had made in court that he hadn’t always been truthful with Stone, with whom he’s had a rocky, 17-year relationship.
“There were exaggerations, there were lies, there were rebuffs? Yes,” Credico said, challenging the attorney’s failure to provide specific dates for events and even whether a text message technically counts as a conversation.
The defense attorney implied that Credico had deliberately downplayed his relationship with Assange while testifying for the prosecution, reminding the jury that Credico had sent Stone a photo of him standing outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange had been granted asylum, and that he later dined with Assange in the embassy in 2017.
Asked if he meant, at that time, to imply to Stone that he had a special relationship with Assange, Credico shot back, “You’re talking about a year after the election … So it was irrelevant.”
Jurors also learned that at a White House Correspondents’ dinner in 2018, Credico attempted to be the conduit for an interview of Assange by a House Intelligence Committee member -- and now the panel’s chairman, Adam Schiff, leader of the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with the president of Ukraine.
Still, Credico maintained, he’d told Stone repeatedly that he’d not been the back channel Stone described to the committee -- while adding he didn’t want to anger Stone.
“I didn’t want to rile the guy,” Credico said. “I can’t work on his level. He plays hardball. He throws a lot of junk.”
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