Why Is Roger Stone Only Now Coming Clean About May 2016 Russia Contact?

Seth Wenig/AP

A Sunday Washington Post report brought the startling revelation that yet another Russian reached out to the Trump campaign to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

At a previously undisclosed May 2016 meeting brokered by former Trump adviser Michael Caputo, a Russian intermediary named Harry Greenberg offered GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone $2 million in exchange for this damaging information. Both Caputo and Stone say they rebuffed and then simply forgot about the remarkable encounter, and did not disclose it publicly or to Congress as a result.

The episode actually came to light after special counsel Robert Mueller’s team grilled Caputo about it during a May 2, 2018 interview.

Fearing that the meeting would be used against them, Caputo launched a well-funded effort to gather information that would help cast the meeting as just another example of an insidious anti-Trump conspiracy at the FBI.

On the same day the Post article dropped, Caputo’s team sent out a press release linking to a glossy new website detailing Greenberg’s past work as an FBI informant. The site, DemocratDossier.org, claims that Caputo conducted his research using money from the crowd-sourced legal fund set up to cover the costs of his defense in the Russia probes. It links to a separate GoFundMe campaign requesting donations for additional investigations into “the informants the intelligence agencies planted into the Trump campaign to spy” on various advisers.

As the Post reported, Greenberg did claim to work as an FBI informant under a different name until around 2013. But the newspaper noted that there was no evidence that he was doing so in his interaction with Stone, and Greenberg denies that he was acting on the FBI’s behalf.

The FBI informant narrative also does not explain why Caputo and Stone failed to disclose the encounter for almost two years, and falsely testified before Congress that they had no meetings with Russian nationals during the election.

But by controlling how the story went public and tying the Greenberg incident to the preexisting FBI “spygate” narrative, the pair of Trump allies allowed themselves to avoid a defensive crouch and remain on the attack.

The seeds of this story line were planted not long after Caputo’s May 2 interview with Mueller. That evening, Caputo told CNN that the special counsel’s team remained “really focused on Russia collusion” and that they “know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.”

“The special counsel is spearfishing,” Caputo said. “They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.”

It was around this time that reports first surfaced that an FBI informant contacted several members of the Trump campaign in July 2016 to suss out their contacts with Russians. That individual, who was in touch with both Carter Page and George Papadopolous, turned out to be Cambridge professor and longtime U.S. intelligence source Stefan Halper.

On May 21, Caputo went on Fox News and suggested that multiple covert informants tried to entrap Trump associates during the 2016 election.

“This informant, this person that they planted, try to plant into the campaign and even into the administration if you believe Axios, he’s not the only person that came at the campaign,” Caputo told host Laura Ingraham. “I know because they came at me, and I’m looking for clearance from my attorney to reveal this to the public.”

“When we finally find out the truth about this, Director Clapper and the rest of them are going to be wearing some orange suits,” he added.

This nefarious description of Greenberg as a plant dispatched to take down the Trump campaign does not quite square with Caputo and Stone’s claims that they had no memory of interacting with him.

“I didn’t talk to anybody who was identifiably Russian during the two-year run-up to this campaign,” Stone told the Washington Post in an April 2017 interview. “I very definitely can’t think of anybody who might have been a Russian without my knowledge. It’s a canard.”

Caputo, meanwhile, told CNN that he spent the bulk of his June 2017 interview before the House Intelligence Committee denying any interaction with Russians.

“I spent my time in front of the committee detailing the fact that I had no contact with Russians, that I never heard of anyone with the Trump campaign talking with Russians, that I was never asked questions about my time in Russia, that I never even spoke to anyone about Russia, that I never heard the word ‘Russia,’ and we did not use Russian dressing,” Caputo said.

But then, during his May 2 interview, special counsel investigators showed Caputo text messages that he and Stone exchanged about the Greenberg meeting in Florida.

As the Post reported, Greenberg was decked out in “Make America Great Again” gear when Stone met him for lunch at a restaurant in Sunny Isles. The Russian national told Stone they “really want to help Trump” and asked if the GOP presidential candidate would pay $2 million for damaging political information about Clinton. Stone replied that Trump “doesn’t pay for anything,” he recalled to the newspaper.

In subsequent text messages, Caputo asked “how crazy is the Russian?” Stone said that Greenberg wanted “big” money and called the meeting a “waste of time.”

Both men told the Post they will now amend their congressional testimony to account for the meeting with Greenberg, and that they simply forgot about the inconsequential encounter.

“I just didn’t remember. 2016 was a pretty busy year,” Stone told ABC News. “I don’t think a failure of memory constitutes a perjury.”

Caputo, too, brushed it off as a non-issue, claiming that he only learned that Greenberg was Russian during his interview with the special counsel, who “knew more about it than I did.”

Congressional follow-up seems unlikely, particularly from the deeply divided House Intelligence Committee.

“Few of the Trump team witnesses have proved worthy of being taken at their word,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who sits on the House Intel Committee told TPM in a statement, “but the House Intelligence Committee’s Republicans refused to issue the subpoenas necessary to confirm or disprove these stories. The latest revelation about Roger Stone proves how irresponsible it was for the Republicans to accept witnesses’ testimony blindly and then end the investigation while insisting there were no more facts to find.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, released a harsh statement on Sunday accusing his GOP colleagues of “shielding witnesses who may have testified before us untruthfully.”

“In multiple respects now, the testimony of Roger Stone appears inaccurate or deliberately misleading,” Schiff said. “Similarly, Michael Caputo’s testimony omitted mention of this interaction with a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, something which could not plausibly have escaped his recollection. The truthfulness of many of our witnesses has been difficult to ascertain, which is why I have urged the committee to make the transcripts available to Special Counsel Mueller for a determination whether any witnesses committed perjury before our committee. The Majority’s unwillingness to do so demonstrates that protecting the President remains its paramount objective.”

Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has actively promoted the notion that there were anti-Trump spies planted in the campaign, and released no statement responding to the Greenberg episode.

Nunes’ office did not respond to TPM’s Monday request for comment.

As the Post noted, Stone and Caputo’s communications with Greenberg means that 11 Trump associates or campaign officials have now admitted to interacting with a Russian during the campaign or presidential transition.

President Trump and his allies have denied anything untoward about those contacts, framing themselves as the target of a sprawling “witch hunt.”

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