legal

Insults, threats and ‘Godfather’ impressions: Feds parade Roger Stone witness-tampering evidence

Prosecutors also revealed how frequently Stone was in touch with Trump’s campaign as he bragged about having information on WikiLeaks election-year plans.

Roger Stone

The texts and emails came cascading out on Thursday. A visceral insult, a chilling threat, a garbled reference to one of the most famous mafia movies of all time. And expletives, so many expletives.

Federal prosecutors unveiled a barrage of evidence against the longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone as they tried to show that Stone bullied an associate to stay silent when a House committee investigating Russia’s 2016 election interference came calling.

It all made for riveting courtroom drama at Stone’s trial on charges of obstruction of Congress, lying and witness tampering as jurors heard all the juicy details from a variety of crude communications between Stone and the liberal talk show host Randy Credico — the witness Stone is charged with threatening and trying to silence.

Jurors even heard from Credico himself, a comic and impressionist who took the stand for the prosecution and had many in the jury box chortling with his wisecracks and a slew of vintage TV and film references. His testimony also triggered repeated interventions by the prosecution and the federal judge to stop with the digressions and keep his responses from devolving into a stand-up act.

Prosecutors had called Credico to the witness stand to explain how Stone repeatedly used a reference to a “Godfather” film in urging him to clam up in response to inquiries from congressional investigators.

But in order to get to that story, prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky first sought to establish Credico’s chops as an impressionist. That meant explaining how an unusual friendship between the two men from polar opposite political camps led to Credico’s recording celebrity voices for Stone’s radio show. One character Credico was particularly good at doing was Marlon Brandon’s famous mafia boss, Vito Corleone.

“You’re tempting me to do the voice,” Credico said as the courtroom braced for a Brando impersonation. But U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson cut him off.

“We know you’re a comedian, but this is serious business,” she declared.

“I know it is. I’m sorry,” Credico said sheepishly.

Jackson’s warning came just moments after jurors saw an email listing all the voices Credico specialized in — from politicians Ted Kennedy and Ronald Reagan to Hollywood greats Al Pacino and Rodney Dangerfield.

“Would you like to hear some? Not even Bernie Sanders?” he quipped, quickly adding: “I will not do any voices, I promise.”

Despite the laughter from jurors and courtroom spectators, the factual testimony the prosecution elicited from Credico damaged Stone by undercutting his claims to congressional investigators. Stone told lawmakers under oath that Credico was the only person he dealt with as he sought to figure out when the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks planned to release stolen emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

But Credico testified that as investigators bore down, he repeatedly reminded Stone that he had bragged about having a “back channel” to the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange long before ever contacting Credico about the issue. In text messages, Stone seemed to blow Credico off.

Prosecutors stressed that in dealings with the House Intelligence Committee, Stone reluctantly confirmed some of his dealings with Credico but never turned over their communications and never disclosed that he had made earlier efforts to dispatch a right-wing journalist, Jerome Corsi, to gather damaging Hillary Clinton emails from Assange.

Credico’s rollicking testimony followed a much more buttoned-down presentation from a former FBI agent who adopted a clinical tone as she read into the record a series of vulgar threats and insults Stone unleashed at his acquaintance as the federal investigations heated up.

The crass messages between Stone and Credico jolted the normally staid courtroom setting, while other evidence illustrated the degree to which Stone was in touch with Trump’s campaign during the peak of the 2016 election when the Republican provocateur was bragging and winking about WikiLeaks’ plans to dump emails that would roil the Clinton campaign.

“When I wipe my ass what’s on the toilet paper is worth more than you are. You’re an alcoholic drug addicted out of work piece of shit,” Stone wrote Credico in one message from early April 2018.

In another exchange, Credico warned Stone that he could be prosecuted for perjury for giving incorrect testimony to lawmakers. Stone replied with several threats directed at Credico and his therapy dog, Bianca.

“I’m going to take that dog away from you. Not a fucking thing you can do about it either because you are a weak piece of shit,” he wrote in one. And in another, Stone said, “Let’s get it on. Prepare to die cocksucker.”

Jurors had been warned what they were in for.

Stone defense attorney Bruce Rogow explained in an opening statement Wednesday that the defendant had a long, “strange relationship” with Credico that often included communications peppered with “odious” language. Still, they heard plenty more over the course of Thursday’s proceedings from a key FBI case agent who handled the Stone file, Michelle Taylor.

That included multiple headline-grabbing allusions to the “Godfather” movies.

Stone and Credico swapped barbed texts referencing the film’s 1974 sequel as Credico fretted over how to respond to a subpoena he’d gotten from the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017. The subpoena came after Stone told lawmakers in a follow-up letter after his own in-person deposition in September that Credico was his intermediary to Assange. Rather than appear before the House panel, Stone urged Credico to avoid testifying and pressed him to assert his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

“This whole thing will be worthless unless you find a place to do your Frank Cannon July 10 imitation ‘sure sure Roger Stone this Roger Stone that,’” Stone wrote to Credico. About 17 seconds later, Stone texted again: “Frank Pantsgele.”

Taylor, who recently left the FBI, explained to jurors that “Frank Cannon July 10” and “Frank Pantsgele” were intended as references to the “Godfather II” character Frank Pentangeli, who suffers a sudden bout of amnesia before Congress when they press him about the Corleone family’s mob activity.

“You’ve seen it recently?” asked Jonathan Kravis, an assistant U.S. attorney from D.C., who is part of the prosecution team.

“Yes,” Taylor replied, breaking into a smile.

Jurors also heard a comparison of Stone’s crimes to Watergate as Taylor read another text message from Stone urging Credico not to speak to lawmakers.

“Stonewall it plead the fifth anything to save the plan,” Stone wrote in November 2017.

Taylor said Stone — famous for his back tattoo of Richard Nixon — was referring to directions the 37th president gave to his aides as investigators closed in.

“It’s a paraphrase of something President Nixon said to John Mitchell and John Dean during Watergate,” she explained.

The current president was also featured again on Thursday, one day after prosecutors revealed that Trump and Stone spoke on several occasions as the longtime conservative activist worked diligently to gain information about the stolen Democratic emails and prod WikiLeaks to release them.

Government lawyers showed jurors a chart detailing how Stone was regularly in touch with the presidential candidate and his top 2016 campaign aides at the same time the WikiLeaks document dumps rocked Clinton’s White House bid.

One colored line detailed the frequency of Stone’s contacts with Trump.

The government is also using a slew of emails and text messages seized from Stone’s accounts with search warrants in August 2018 to showcase apparent contradictions in Stone’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee from the fall of 2017, when the panel was chasing down various leads about the Russian hack attacks.

Stone testified he had no relevant records about that critical time period, and he denied having contact with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks. But the government prosecutors argued that call logs, email exchanges and other communications showed something else. During the late summer of 2016, for example, Stone had two calls with Trump himself and nearly 30 calls with the deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates.

Stone was also in touch with Erik Prince, an informal Trump campaign adviser, in October 2016. They discussed the WikiLeaks document dumps, according to the documents.

“You are a great American,” Stone wrote in the exchange with Prince.

Prosecutors also revealed that before Stone and Credico had their falling-out, the Republican adviser seemed to have unsuccessfully tried to butter up his liberal sparring partner.

Stone sent Credico an inaccurate excerpt of a letter Stone’s attorneys sent to Congress in October 2017. The version shared with Credico contained a variety of flattering statements about the talk show host and activist that were not contained in the version actually sent to the House Intelligence Committee.

The draft — or potentially doctored — paragraphs said Stone held Credico in “high regard” and hailed his “landmark interviews” with Assange on the New York alternative radio station WBAI. The section Stone emailed Credico also detailed their cooperation on efforts to relax the New York drug laws and free drug convicts from prison.

“Does that language appear in the letter actually sent to the committee?” Kravis, the government prosecutor, asked Taylor.

“It does not,” she said.

Despite the profane and sometimes cruel exchanges, Credico repeatedly warned Stone that he was putting himself in legal danger by not being candid with the House committee. For months, the talk show host pleaded, unsuccessfully, with Stone to change his testimony about his intermediary to Assange.

Credico also displayed a remarkable degree of foresight that Stone seemed to lack.

“I don’t know why you had to lie and say you had a back channel,” Credico wrote, after FBI agents seized his electronic communications.

“What the fuck is your problem neither one of us has done anything bad or illegal,” Stone replied. “If you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.”

“You opened yourself up to six counts of perjury,” Credico wrote, more than a year before Stone was indicted on seven felony charges, including five for making false statements to Congress. “You should go back and amend your testimony and tell the truth….I’m sure you still have time.”

At one point Thursday, out of earshot of the jury, Jackson reprimanded one of Stone’s defense attorneys for his “extremely slow” cross-examination of Taylor that “tested the patience of the jurors a great deal.”

The questioning seemed aimed at showing that whatever boasting and strutting the men were doing in their exchanges about Assange and Wikileaks, she had no real knowledge of whether there was anything to back up their claims.

Credico’s testimony proved much more lively, including a jaw-dropping story about the more rocky aspects of the relationship between the two men at opposite extremes of American politics. The liberal activist said he and Stone fell out in 2011 after Stone sent out word that Credico was dead.

“He put out on Facebook, Twitter and a blast email that ‘Randy Credico died of an overdose. May he rest in peace,’” Credico recalled. “It caused some problems. … It’s a big practical joke except by my friends and family.”

Zelinsky also sought to preempt potential defense attacks on Credico, getting him to concede that when he testified before a grand jury, he failed to recall some of his exchanges with Stone. And more Hollywood references gushed out after Zelinsky asked about the witness’ struggles with drinking.

“I was in show business for 40 years,” Credico explained. “There was also a lot of [alcohol], but I was not Ray Milland from ‘Lost Weekend’ or Otis from ‘Mayberry….’ I’ve been sober for the last year. I’ve been in and out of sobriety and AA for 34 years.”

Prompted by the prosecution, Credico described how he first met Stone during a 2002 New York gubernatorial campaign and how their relationship took a history-altering turn more than a dozen years later during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Credico explained how Stone accepted an offer to appear on his new radio show that spring, providing him a big-name voice engaged in national politics at the highest levels. Later in the summer, Stone helped Credico line up an interview with Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket.

At the same time that they were doing each other favors — Credico said he fulfilled the “quid pro quo” by going on Stone’s radio show as a guest — the two men also seemed to be trying to outdo each other when they talked about their connections to Assange.

Credico explained how his text messages to Stone saying that he was on the verge of landing an on-air radio interview with the WikiLeaks founder in August of 2016 were his way of gloating.

Clips of Stone around that time were being played nonstop on cable TV, where the political operative boasted to a South Florida GOP group that he’d been communicating directly with Assange. “I was trying to one-up him,” Credico explained.

In reality, Credico said, he was anything but an Assange insider. It’s why he didn’t press for specifics about upcoming damaging email dumps to Clinton when Assange actually appeared on his radio show that summer. And it’s why he had little luck getting anywhere close to Assange when he visited the Ecuadorian Embassy in London later in the fall to drop off a letter offering him a regular spot on his network.

“It was like the Thing from ‘Addams Family,’” Credico said in describing what happened when he knocked on the door of the building where Assange had been holed up since 2012. “A hand came out. They grabbed the letter, but I did not get inside the door.”

Jurors cracked up at the TV reference, and they kept on smiling when Jackson cut the day short before 5 p.m., with Credico scheduled to come back Friday morning for more direct testimony and cross-examination from Stone’s defense team.

As the judge prepared to dismiss them, she made an addendum to her usual warning about not discussing the case with anyone, to do research or consuming any media reports about the trial. Given all they’d just heard, Jackson added to her spiel that it also meant “not even downloading ‘The Godfather’ on Netflix.”