WASHINGTON -- A key witness in the trial of Roger Stone on Thursday described the breakdown in their unlikely relationship that culminated in special counsel Robert Mueller filing charges against Stone.
Randy Credico's interactions with Stone are at the heart of the case against the longtime confidant of President Donald Trump. Stone is accused of lying to Congress to conceal his efforts to contact WikiLeaks for information on the Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee emails and then tampering with a witness —Credico — by trying to prevent him from contradicting Stone's testimony. He denies any wrongdoing.
The appearance of Credico, a radio talk show host and comedian, brought a dose of levity to a case that has so far revolved around the close examination of hundreds of texts and emails. He initially gave his occupation as "professional witness" and mischievously referenced Trump's impeachment troubles by saying he had offered Stone a "quid pro quo" after Stone helped him book a guest on his show.
Thursday's testimony detailed the acrimonious collapse of the relationship between the liberal Credico and Stone, a conservative who revered Richard Nixon so much, he has Nixon's face tattooed on his back. The two men met in 2002 through the campaign of a third-party candidate for New York governor. Despite their political differences, Stone was a regular guest on Credico's radio show.
"He's good on radio," Credico said of Stone. "He's a good guest to have on."
In August 2016, Credico scored a coup by securing an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who at the time was avoiding prosecution by sheltering in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. In multiple interviews and public appearances, Stone had mentioned that he was in contact with Assange through a trusted intermediary and hinted at inside knowledge of WikiLeaks' plans. But he started pressing Credico to broker a contact, and Credico testified that he told Stone to work through his own intermediary.
Yet earlier testimony revealed that Stone, while appearing before the House Intelligence Committee, named Credico as his intermediary to Assange and pressured Credico not to contradict him. The details were included in some of the hundreds of Stone emails and texts presented by a former FBI agent, Michelle Taylor.
In November 2017, when Credico received a letter from the committee inviting him to a "voluntary transcribed interview," he worriedly reached out to Stone asking what to do. Stone responded with the following text: "'Stonewall it, plead the fifth, anything to save the plan...' Richard Nixon." The quote was from secret tapes of Nixon revealed during the Watergate investigation.
In the texts, Credico accused Stone of getting caught up in his own public exaggerations, feigning back-channel connections to Assange that didn't exist and then naming Credico as that connection in order to maintain the story.
"You want me to cover you for perjury now," Credico wrote to Stone in one text exchange. "It was all bravado... You never had a back channel."
Stone responded, "I guarantee you that you'll be the one who gets indicted for perjury if you're stupid enough to testify."
As the relationship deteriorated, Stone's responses descended into vulgar abuse and threats, as well as multiple references to Frank Pentangeli, a figure in the movie "The Godfather Part II."
In the movie, Pentangeli is a midlevel Mafia boss who plans to testify against the criminal godfather, Michael Corleone. At the last minute, under pressure that is never fully explained, Pentangeli reverses his testimony and sabotages the government's case. He claims before Congress that the FBI pressured him to make up stories and ensnare Corleone.
The exchanges between Stone and Credico include at least a half a dozen Pentangeli references, some of them misspelled or mangled by auto-correct so they appear as "Frank Pantsgele" or "Frank Cannon July 10."
In multiple instances, Stone urges Credico to "start practicing your pentangeli" imitation.
In his cross-examination, defense attorney Bruce Rogow led Taylor through a slow and seemingly meandering review of certain pieces of evidence. Rogow appeared to be emphasizing the limits of the FBI's knowledge. For example, he cited an Aug. 18, 2016, email from Stone to senior Trump campaign official Steve Bannon that read: "Lots to do. Let me know when you can talk." He then induced Taylor to admit that she didn't know if the pair had actually talked.
Speaking with a slow, genteel delivery, Rogow was a sharp change of pace from the rapid-fire evidence delivery of the prosecution. His delivery was too slow for Judge Jackson's liking. With the jurors out of the room, she told him: "The pacing of the cross was extremely slow and I think it tested the patience of the jurors a great deal."
She was also somewhat critical of the presentation of Credico, who is expected back on the witness stand Friday. At one point, when Credico seemed like he was about to do an impression, Jackson warned him: "We know you're a comedian, but this is serious business."
Still, Jackson couldn't resist her own bit of humor. Before dismissing the jurors, she warned them not to attempt any independent research on the issues at hand, "not even downloading 'The Godfather' on Netflix."
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