Pando

Behind the scenes of the Donald Trump - Roger Stone show

Anti-establishment politics is a racket

By Mark Ames , written on August 11, 2015

From The Politics Desk

It was just after liftoff on the flight from San Francisco to New York that Roger Stone’s face appeared on the back of Seat 9D, looking straight at me.

Gah! Did my Virgin America flight crash? is Roger Stone’s satellite-fed face my eternal punishment? The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!...

But it was just CNN, a more familiar kind of Hell, and a deadlier one. Not what you want on your exit row TV monitor when you’re nursing a tequila hangover: Stone was giving a Big Exclusive interview to a bright white CNN bot named Poppy Harlow, a Heathers type who famously grieved on-air for the Steubenville rapists, “who had such promising futures, star football players”...

The big story: Trump fired Roger Stone from his campaign, or Roger Stone quit, depending on whom you believed (which, if you believe either Trump or Roger Stone, please contact me—I have a new Florida Swampland real estate app to sell you).

Somehow I’d missed the earlier news that Roger Stone—Dick Nixon's dirty trickster, fascist fan of Roy Cohn, lobbyist for some of the worst dictators in the world—was running Trump’s campaign until last weekend. Or maybe I blocked it out—maybe I didn’t want to know, a sign of just how far I’ve reassimilated myself back into mainstream America’s comforting amnesia bubble.

The problem is, I know the Roger Stone story a bit too viscerally well. I even had a brief brush with Mr. Stone during the last presidential election cycle. He responded to a post mortem I wrote on Gary Johnson’s fraudulent 2012 run for president on the Libertarian Party ticket—a political swindle that Stone managed, and whose presence led me to dig deeper into the cesspool of modern third party fake-politics.

After my article came out in NSFWCORP [now owned by Pando], Roger Stone tweeted this compliment at me, calling me “asshole”:

Now to most ordinary folks, a political operative calling a journalist “asshole” looks rather offensive, even scandalous. It’s considered part of his charm, among journalists who tend to come from a pampered class that is easy prey to the charms of a vicious DC thug whose peculiar bluff—“telling it like it is,” crude, macho, is “refreshingly reckless” by the chickenshit standards of most of today’s journalists…

If you know where Roger Stone comes from, it’s the closest thing to a compliment his species is capable of. Imagine a real life Repo Man guy, only without any of the lower-middle-class fun or the punk rock soundtrack—a monumentally sleazy, pro-business, Republican Party/Chamber of Commerce sewer rat version of the Harry Dean Stanton character, the only version that could possibly thrive in this cheerless, unheroic version of America that we’re stuck in.

Roger Stone’s involvement in Trump’s run for office today is good news for anyone interested in politics who’d like an early-season bullshit cleanser. The more you know about Stone’s (and Trump’s) history, the harder it is to trust the surface, and even harder to trust the margins of that surface – those spaces on the left and right where we're told each election season are where the real politics are at –but in fact are so rotten and so easily manipulated you almost wish you didn’t know.

The three main takeaways you need to keep in mind in the Roger Stone-Donald Trump story are:

  1. Roger Stone’s dirty tricks specialty is manipulating voter fractures, and weaponizing anti-establishment politics to serve the electoral needs of mainstream Republican candidates;
      
  2. Roger Stone and Donald Trump have been working together since the mid-1980s, mostly on sleazy campaigns to help Trump’s casino business, but also in politics;  
      
  3. Roger Stone and Donald Trump worked together in at least two major “black bag” operations manipulating anti-establishment politics to help the mainstream Republican presidential candidate;

First let’s start with a brief history of Roger Stone’s dirty tricks—although “dirty tricks” is one of those euphemisms that makes it sound almost fun, rather than depressing and vile. Stone got his start as a hippie-bashing Young Republican college student in the early Nixon years. He eagerly volunteered to work for Nixon’s CREEP (Committee to RE-Elect the President) operatives, who set up and funded a number of illegal campaign operations in 1971-2 to make sure that Nixon won the 1972 election.

Political spooks are a lot like government spooks and their buddies in the underworld—they boast and bullshit a lot, and some of them, like Stone, ham it up as a bluff to swooning journalists. So it’s hard to know exactly which dirty tricks the young Roger Stone was personally responsible for, but the Nixon CREEP team that he was recruited to work for definitely was responsible for destroying the 1972 candidacy of Sen. Edward Muskie of Maine, the candidate that the Nixon team feared the most.

The way they destroyed Muskie will be useful for us today, because Muskie comes from one of the lily-white New England states vulnerable to attacks from the race-focused left, a strategy we’ll see more of in our time.

One of young Roger Stone’s first dirty tricks for CREEP was sending a campaign check for $200 to liberal Republican congressman (and Wilson Sonsini co-founder) Pete McCloskey on behalf of the Young Socialist Alliance, and then forwarding a copy of the receipt to the publisher of the largest daily newspaper in New Hampshire, the Manchester Union-Leader. (Stone was supposed to write the check on behalf of the Gay Liberation Front, but he was too chickenshit about having his name associated with radical gays.)

Other tricks he and his team were involved in—installing their own mole as Muskie’s personal driver, who then passed on all sorts of confidential documents back to the CREEP team, which then leaked some of them, inciting paranoia in the Muskie staff.

The main thing is that Nixon and his team wanted Muskie out, the Democrats divided, and an unelectable leftist to emerge from the rubble as Nixon’s opponent. What’s painful to swallow is how successful they were in manipulating that outcome.

It was Pat Buchanan who laid out the Nixon ‘72 strategy in a memo titled “Muskie Watch,” advising that the GOP attacks should “focus on those issues that divide the Democrats, not those that unite Republicans.” Buchanan argued:

 “It should exacerbate and elevate those issues on which Democrats are divided—forcing Muskie to either straddle, or come down on one side or the other.” 

Another 1971 Buchanan memo reads,

Maintain as guiding political principle that our great hope for 1972 lies in maintaining or exacerbating the deep Democratic rift.

That “deep Democratic rift” referred to the far-right populist wing of the party in the South, led by George Wallace; and the left multiracial wing of the party, represented then by black congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, and by McGovern, who wound up winning the nomination.

Buchanan argued that having Wallace—Alabama’s symbol of segregation—run from the far-right in the 1972 Democratic primaries (but not run in November as a third party candidate, which would hurt Nixon) would divide the Democratic Party, and turn voters off. Lo and behold, they succeeded in convincing Wallace to run in the Democratic primaries in a dirty quid pro quo, and Wallace was doing a good job of dirtying and dividing the Dems until a real-life Travis Bickle stuck his pistol out from a crowd and popped Wallace’s spinal cord.

Another Nixon strategy was funding a black left run against the Democrats and against Muskie. Thanks to an amazing, deep-researched piece on Roger Stone on a site called italkyoubored.com, I came across some incredible passages that are a kind of open black box for contemporary politics—unless of course you think Nixon was an exception, and all those bad folks were punished and banished from our peaceable kingdom.

In an October 5, 1971 memo, Pat Buchanan—co-founder of the American Conservative magazine & Nixon’s favorite killer, the kind of guy Roger Stone dreamed of becoming (and one day, destroying)—wrote:

Top level consideration should be given to ways and means to promote, assist, and fund a Fourth Party candidacy of the Left Democrats and/or the Black Democrats....There is nothing that can so advance the President’s chances for reelection – not a trip to China, not four and a half per cent unemployment – as a realistic black…campaign....We should continue to champion the cause of the blacks within the Democratic Party.

As luck should have it, Muskie was hounded at his Florida hotel room during the primaries there by “angry” black picketers—who were secretly under Nixon’s White House supervision—demanding, angrily, that Muskie agree to name an African-American vice presidential candidate. [Source: Rick Perlstein’s "Nixonland"] And just as Pat Buchanan and Nixon hoped – even pledging money to fulfill that hope – New York Democrat Shirley Chisholm announced her independent run for president, the first African-American woman to ever do so. In secret Nixon White House files, Chisholm’s candidacy was part of “Operation Coal”—one of several operations under the rubric “Operation Gemstone” which culminated in the bugging of Watergate, the Democratic Party campaign headquarters.

It’s depressing to think it came out of White House conferences like this, recorded in the secret Nixon tapes:

SEPTEMBER 14, 1971: THE PRESIDENT, HALDEMAN [CHIEF OF STAFF], AND COLSON [WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL COUNSEL], 12:37-1:32 P.M., OVAL OFFICE

Nixon continues to rage about the IRS and his friends. Colson then joins the conversation, offering his special contributions to White House dirty tricks.

COLSON

Well, Bob Brown has some friends who are going to have signs around the Muskie rallies, [saying Carl] Stokes [the black mayor of Cleveland] for vice president. This raises the point—

HALDEMAN

I will hope the hell that Watts do go ahead with a black president candidate.

PRESIDENT NIXON

So do I.

HALDEMAN

In fact, Buchanan has come in with a suggestion that may make a lot of sense which is that — he says if we’re going to spend $50 million in this campaign, then 10 percent of it, $5 million, ought to be devoted—

PRESIDENT NIXON

To the fourth party.

HALDEMAN

—to financing a black—

COLSON

Shirley Chisholm and Julian Bond.

PRESIDENT NIXON

Do you think that the blacks will vote for a black party?

HALDEMAN

Some.

COLSON

A lot of them will especially if—

HALDEMAN

Just to show that the Democratic party has no one…But Pat’s point is we’ve got to get a viable candidate — only if they get a viable candidate. If they get a Julian Bond—

PRESIDENT NIXON

Well, let me suggest this. Might — $5 million would finance Eugene McCarthy.

HALDEMAN

Well, that’s Howard Stein is working on that. There’s a good story in the U.S News, Newsweek, or something. Stein has outlined the McCarthy plan which is that he is not going to enter the primaries but he’s going to do a major speaking tour next year will go to the convention as people — the Democratic convention as the people’s candidate. If, as is expected, he’s rejected by the convention, he will then go to the fourth party. The problem is that it’s too late then go to a fourth party. You have — it takes time to get a fourth party qualified…[Remember, Wallace? Wallace did a superb job. That’s why with a black party you’ve got to get started (inaudible), so they get qualified for—]

PRESIDENT NIXON

All right, Bob. Put that down for discussion — not for discussion but for action. They should finance and contribute both to McCarthy and to the black thing.

COLSON

That’s a helluva lot—

PRESIDENT NIXON

We’re recognizing that McCarthy — the black won’t take any votes from us. Just like the damn Democrats contributed to [George] Wallace in Alabama. They did, you know. Jesus Christ, they were praying for Wallace to win that primary.

HALDEMAN

Yeah.

COLSON

That’s a helluva lot better use of money than a lot of things.

PRESIDENT NIXON

Oh, we spent — waste money on all sorts of things.

HALDEMAN

Okey-doke. What he’s saying is, you know, instead of some television commercials—

PRESIDENT NIXON

Absolutely.

HALDEMAN

—we can do this.

COLSON

Or billboards.

HALDEMAN

Because we’re going to need the television commercials.

[Excerpts from “Abuse Of Power: The New Nixon Tapes,” by Stanley Kutler; h/t to italkyoubored—M.A.]

With bizarre attacks and pressure mounting on all sides and Muskie growing increasingly paranoid and peeved, Nixon’s dirty tricksters wound up destroying him in one of those weird insignificant little episodes that somehow get weaponized, go viral, and destroy the candidate. A Nixon CREEPer, maybe Roger Stone, sent a phony letter to the editor to the big New Hampshire newspaper on the eve of the all-important early primary there, claiming to be written by a Muskie supporter who claimed, falsely, that he’d met Muskie in Florida (where Nixon’s White House paid blacks to picket Muskie’s hotel), and asked Muskie how he could possibly understand the problems that black Americans face given the fact that his home state Maine has so few minorities.

The fake letter, published on the front page of the Union-Leader, claimed that Muskie rudely responded that Maine did have its minorities: “Not blacks, but we have Canucks”—and at this, according to the fake letter, Muskie burst out laughing.

As Rick Perlstein writes in Nixonland, the smear hit Muskie from two sides—pissing off blacks, but also New Hampshire’s sizable French Canadian community. As Perlstein explained, “Muskie thought of them [French Canadians], evidently, as New England’s niggers.”

Shortly afterwards, Muskie had his alleged meltdown in front of reporters—as snow fell on his face, he lashed back at the Nixon White House, but some national reporters mistakenly described the melting snowflakes on Muskie’s face as tears, and described his anger as a “breakdown.” Muskie was finished. Sort of like how Vermont front-runner in 2004, Howard Dean, was finished off by the one-two of Dean’s screechy “woo!” gesture, and Al Sharpton accusing Dean of being anti-black during the debates.

As it turns out, Al Sharpton entered the 2004 Democratic primaries on the payroll and orders of Roger Stone, who directed Sharpton’s attacks from the race politics-left against Howard Dean. And as the New York Times revealed that year, it was Donald Trump who took credit for introducing Al Sharpton — a one-time FBI informant — to his old friend and lobbyist, GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back again to Roger Stone, young eager NixonJugend. After Nixon was tossed out, Stone found work as National Chairman for the Young Republicans, and doing black bag jobs for Reagan in the 1980 election against incumbent president Jimmy Carter. Stone’s proudest achievement in that election was working with Joe McCarthy’s henchman, Roy Cohn, and a mobster named Fat Tony Salerno to bribe New York’s biggest third party, the Liberal Party, to put on the ballot that election’s most popular third party candidate, John Anderson. Decades later, Stone still remembered Roy Cohn fondly:

 He didn't give a shit what people thought, as long as he was able to wield power. He worked the gossip columnists in this city like an organ.

Roger Stone wanted to get the main third-party candidate on the New York state ballot. John Anderson was one of those earnest midwestern centrist Republicans who’d pass for liberal Democrats today. Conventional wisdom at the time held that Anderson drew votes from fellow Republican Reagan, but private polling, and Roger Stone’s experience running “third party patsies” told him the real story: Anderson drained votes from the Dem Party president, Jimmy Carter.

Stone’s problem was that John Anderson waited too long to get his name on New York state’s ballot. So working with Roy Cohn and Fat Tony, the Reagan campaign official bribed Liberal Party leaders to get them to place Anderson’s name on the ballot for them. Here is how Stone tells his story to the Weekly Standard:

Stone, who going back to his class elections in high school has been a proponent of recruiting patsy candidates to split the other guy's support, remembers suggesting to Cohn that if they could figure out a way to make John Anderson the Liberal Party nominee in New York, with Jimmy Carter picking up the Democratic nod, Reagan might win the state in a three-way race. “Roy says, 'Let me look into it.'” Cohn then told him, “'You need to go visit this lawyer'—a lawyer who shall remain nameless—‘and see what his number is.’ I said, ‘Roy, I don't understand.’ Roy says, ‘How much cash he wants, dumbfuck.’” Stone balked when he found out the guy wanted $125,000 in cash to grease the skids, and Cohn wanted to know what the problem was. Stone told him he didn't have $125,000, and Cohn said, "That's not the problem. How does he want it?"

Cohn sent Stone on an errand a few days later. “There's a suitcase,” Stone says. “I don't look in the suitcase . . . I don't even know what was in the suitcase . . . I take the suitcase to the law office. I drop it off. Two days later, they have a convention. Liberals decide they're endorsing John Anderson for president. It's a three-way race now in New York State. Reagan wins with 46 percent of the vote. I paid his law firm. Legal fees. I don't know what he did for the money, but whatever it was, the Liberal Party reached its right conclusion out of a matter of principle.”

[In retrospect, Stone] seems to feel pretty good—now that certain statutes of limitations are up. He cites one of Stone's Rules, by way of Malcolm X, his “brother under the skin”: “By any means necessary.” “Reagan got the electoral votes in New York State, we saved the country,” Stone says with characteristic understatement. “[More] Carter would've been an unmitigated disaster.”

In other words, Roger Stone is boasting about buying American democracy, using the mob and third party candidates. It’s funny, because during last week’s GOP debate, Trump bragged about buying off half the GOP candidates as well as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, and gaining all the access he wanted by giving them cash...and he also refused to rule out running as a third party candidate.

* * * *

In 1988, Roger Stone was a Big DC lobbyist, working for Black, Manafort & Stone, whose list of dictator-clients included Zaire’s Mobutu, deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Somalia’s deposed dictator, and the apartheid-backed Angolan death squad thug and witch burner, Jonas Savimbi. Stone got partial credit in creating the most notorious racist political ad in modern times to help elect George Bush Sr in 1988 — the Willie Horton ad, used to frighten white American voters into believing that a President Dukakis would open up the prisons and jails on weekends, allowing sexually-charged black criminals to run wild in white suburban neighborhoods, raping and strangling white women for kicks.

By this time, Trump had already started working with Roger Stone. Both were big fans of Roy Cohn; both enjoyed talking like Goodfellas characters in public and watching the normals swoon over their macho act. But more than anything, both were interested in cashing in on the booming casino business.

Sometimes this meant buying favors from politicians to get casinos opened; sometimes it meant running dirty campaigns to get rival casinos closed. This is what happened in 2000, when Trump and Stone were fined $250,000 for setting up a fake “family values” front group in New York, the Institute for Law and Society, to run a series of racist ads against a planned Indian casino in the Catskills that Trump feared would drain business from his casinos in Atlantic City.

So Trump and Stone whipped up anti-Indian racism to protect Trump’s business. The ad they ran featured a dark photo of a hypodermic needle and drug gear, and the text warned:

 The St. Regis Mohawk Indian Tribe proposes to open a gambling casino at the Monticello Race Track in Sullivan County.

How much do you really know about the St. Regis Mohawk Indians?

Are these the new neighbors we want? The St. Regis Mohawk Indian record of criminal activity is well documented. This proposed Monticello Indian Casino will bring increased crime and violence to Sullivan County.

That year, 2000, was a busy year for the Donald Trump-Roger Stone partnership.

Stone had been hired by the George W. Bush campaign to carry out two major black bag jobs that we know of: Sabotaging the Florida recount vote, using a mob of “angry” Cubans and Republican “preppies” to storm a Miami-Dade recount and stop it in its tracks, which Stone — hired for the job by James Baker — succeeded in doing.

How Roger Stone and Donald Trump destroyed George W. Bush’s potential rivals in 2000 is less well known. That year, George W. Bush faced two known threats, and Roger Stone was tasked with neutralizing them: Pat Buchanan, whose 1992 run nearly crippled Bush’s father in the primaries; and Ross Perot’s Reform Party, which drained enough votes in ’92 and ’96 to ensure Clinton victories.

So in the lead-up to the 2000 election, Roger Stone cleverly cajoled Pat Buchanan into taking control of Perot’s Reform Party, then used his friend Donald Trump to run a rival campaign against Buchanan for the Reform Party candidacy—only to drop out of the race, and attack Buchanan’s Reform Party as a cesspool full of Hitler lovers and racists. Stone inserted moles like William Von Raab, secretly funded by Trump, into Buchanan’s campaign, according to the Village Voice.

The operation wound up destroying the Reform Party’s brand and burying it for good, stinking it up too much for a late entry by Ross Perot. The Reform Party’s chairman, Pat Choate, called the “Trump/Stone operation” a “Republican dirty trick” meant to “disgust people and drive them away from the Reform Party. They were doing everything in their power to make a mess.”

The point, however, is that it worked: The Reform Party and Pat Buchanan caused no damage whatsoever to George W. Bush’s election bid in 2000, unlike Ralph Nader’s effect on Al Gore’s run.

After neutralizing the Reform Party and blocking the Florida recount with his hired “Brooks Brothers mob” Roger Stone was rewarded by President Bush by being put in charge of the Bush-Cheney 2000 transition team’s Indian Bureau Affairs appointments. Even in this, Trump did a solid for Stone, signing his name on a fake letter written by Stone in order to sink the nomination of the “wrong” Indian tribal leader who wasn’t Stone’s man. The fake Trump letter ensured that Stone’s man, Neal McCaleb, was given the job as head of Bush’s Indian Affairs Bureau instead. The Indian leader whose nomination was killed by the Trump-Stone letter later complained to the Village Voice,

"I don't know why Trump did that,” says Martin, who'd never spoken to Trump. “I don't think he and I have ever been in the same city at the same time.

In early 2004, with former Vermont governor and articulate antiwar candidate Howard Dean electrifying Democrats and antiwar voters and posing a potentially deadly threat to the Bush campaign, Roger Stone secretly funded and staffed Al Sharpton, and sent him into the Democratic Party primaries to smear Howard Dean and suck the life and joy out of his campaign. It worked.

Again, quoting the great Village Voice reporting by Wayne Barrett from 2004:

While Bush forces like the Club for Growth were buying ads in Iowa assailing then front-runner Howard Dean, Sharpton took center stage at a debate confronting Dean about the absence of blacks in his Vermont cabinet. Stone told the Times that he “helped set the tone and direction” of the Dean attacks, while Charles Halloran, the Sharpton campaign manager installed by Stone, supplied the research. While other Democratic opponents were also attacking Dean, none did it on the advice of a consultant who's worked in every GOP presidential campaign since his involvement in the Watergate scandals of 1972, including all of the Bush family campaigns.

The Times quoted Trump in 2004 taking credit for introducing Al Sharpton to Roger Stone. But it was Barrett’s merciless reporting on Sharpton’s “blackface bucks”—the legions of race-baiting Republicans who donated cash and resources to Sharpton’s anti-Howard Dean run—that is something worth re-reading today, as we’re already seeing stunts like using black Tea Party activists to play the same old racism card and thereby sabotage and suck the life out of another popular Vermont candidate, Bernie Sanders....

The last thing white liberals and lefties want to be caught doing is criticizing any black political leader, even if that leader is a rightwing mole and FBI snitch like Al Sharpton. As Barrett reminded readers in 2004,

Sharpton and Stone are, in a sense, brothers under the skin, outlandish personalities too large to be bound by the constraints that govern the rest of us. Stone was the registered agent in America for Argentina's intelligence agency, sucking up spy novels; Sharpton was a confidential informant for the FBI, wiring up on black leaders for the feds. Stone is a fashion impersonator, dressing like a hip-hop dandy; Sharpton, having shed his gold medallion and jogger suits, now looks like a smooth banker. Stone was involved in Watergate at the age of 19; Sharpton was a boy-wonder preacher. Stone's mentor from the days of his youth was Roy Cohn; Sharpton's was James Brown. Sharpton is a minister without a church; Stone is almost as rootless, having left the powerhouse Washington firm he helped form years ago. Each reinvents himself daily, if not hourly, as if nothing in their past matters.

In their latest incarnations, Al Sharpton is an MSNBC black liberal and Democratic Party loyalist; Roger Stone is a Libertarian prankster fighting the two-party stranglehold; and Donald Trump is a right-wing populist shaking up the system because by gum, he just doesn’t care and he doesn’t need to care.

That’s one, very dumb, very gullible way of putting it.

Another way of putting it is this: Donald Trump and Roger Stone have spent the past few decades conning the public by exploiting fractures — anti-establishment politics, and anti-establishment outrages. Until now, there’s been a consistent logic and purpose to every single sleazy black bag “Trump/Stone operation”: elect the mainstream Republican candidate, and enrich Trump and Stone.

Do you really think this election is any different?