As Russia probe looms, Roger Stone touts relationship to WikiLeaks

Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016, in New York City.

Story highlights

  • Roger Stone has touted his mutual connection with WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange
  • That connection is receiving renewed scrutiny

Washington (CNN)As questions swirl around possible connections to President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, his friend, Roger Stone, has retraced the line between himself and WikiLeaks.

Over the weekend, the longtime Trump confidant tweeted that he had a "back channel" to WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign -- only to later delete it.
"[N]ever denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on #CrookedHillary," Stone tweeted late Saturday night. The post was gone after almost 40 minutes.
Last weekend's Twitter flare-up raised questions anew about Stone, who worked for the Trump campaign in 2015 and claims to have a connection to WikiLeaks and its leader, Julian Assange.
Scrutiny around Stone's potential ties to WikiLeaks began in August 2016, when at an event in Florida, Stone said: "I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there's no telling what the October surprise may be."
WikiLeaks took to Twitter, saying it was unaware of communications between Stone and the organization or Assange.
Stone said on Twitter more than a week later that it would soon be Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's "time in the barrel."
The message proved prescient. In early October, WikiLeaks began posting Podesta's emails online for public consumption.
The US intelligence community has said Russia was behind the theft of Podesta's emails. In a report detailing its joint findings, the intelligence community said it had "high confidence" that Russian military intelligence relayed material to WikiLeaks.
WikiLeaks has denied that Russia was the source for its disclosures, and the Russian government has emphatically denied any connection with the theft as well.
As Stone regularly touted WikiLeaks' releases, the self-styled radical transparency organization once again said it had never communicated with Stone.
Stone told CBS4 Miami at the time that his tweet was not meant to reflect upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures and said he had communicated with Assange indirectly.
"I do have a back-channel communication with Assange because we have a good mutual friend," he said in the October interview.
Podesta has said that he believed Stone knew about the hack of his email in advance of the WikiLeaks releases.
Stone has denied coordination with WikiLeaks and reiterated the claim many times over since then, in interviews with the Guardian, MSNBC, The New Yorker and others, that his information came from a US journalist who is friends with both himself and Assange.
In a contentious question-and-answer session early February on the website Reddit, Stone said, "I have been forthright about the fact that Julian Assange of WikiLeaks and I share a common friend who has communicated with both of us."
Throughout these media appearances, Stone has also categorically denied any contact with Russia besides an affinity for its alcoholic beverages.
"I have no Russian clients. I have no Russian contacts, I have no Russian money. I have no Russian influences. I do like Russian vodka," Stone told Time in an interview published early February.
Stone has known Trump for decades, dating back to when he said the two connected through attorney Roy Cohn -- who gained notoriety as an ally of Sen. Joseph McCarthy -- before establishing a business relationship. He was initially part of Trump's campaign before the two split ways amid disputed circumstances in August 2015. Later on in the campaign, Stone went on to start a super PAC in support of Trump as well as keep a line of communication open.
While he reportedly played a role in their mutual associate Paul Manafort getting a leading role in the campaign last spring, Stone generally remained on the sidelines following his early break with the Trump campaign.
And from the margins, Stone cheered on his friend and insulted his critics.
He told MSNBC in mid-February that he still spoke with Manafort and Trump, saying he had spoken with Trump since the inauguration.
With that nod toward victory, Stone has continued what he's done all along: making profane statements attacking his political opponents, stirring up fights and defending his longtime friend -- who now occupies the Oval Office.