As images of President Donald Trump leaning in to receive a glittering gift from King Salman bin Abdulaziz made the rounds this weekend, a longtime personal confidante of the President felt sick.
“Candidly this makes me want to puke,” Roger Stone tweeted on Saturday, a picture of Trump being awarded a mark of the kingdom’s highest civilian honor above his words. Appended there: #Jaredsidea – a reference to the President’s son-in-law and top White House aide Jared Kushner.
If Kushner is the young, buttoned-down and stiff-lipped operator in Trump’s inner orbit, then Stone is the bullish and flamboyant right-wing gadfly, always a phone call away from Trump or anyone else who wants to talk, and a résumé that dates back to the Nixon years.
Stone’s CV was compelling enough to inspire a recently released Netflix documentary, “Get Me Roger Stone,” chronicling his life in national politics – one that began as a young dirty trickster for Nixon, endured a scandalous setback in the mid 1990s and reemerged in the last two decades as, among other things, a voice directing Trump toward the presidential trough.
“I was like a jockey looking for a horse,” Stone says in the film. “You can’t win the race if you don’t have a horse. (Trump’s) a prime piece of political horse flesh in my view.”
But Stone’s ride ended early. He was fired by the campaign in August 2015, relegated – or so it seemed – to the that vast swirling orbit of off-the-books Trump whisperers. But his influence remained apparent through the primaries and into the general election contest with Hillary Clinton. When Trump decided to fire FBI Director James Comey in early May, he did it with a push from Stone.
The 2016 campaign was a microcosm of Stone’s political life. Never quite a key figure, he popped up repeatedly, often in the most sordid circumstances. His closest real connection to Nixon, whose pugnacious spirit he’s spent decades publicly venerating, is a tattoo of the man’s face, etched famously now onto Stone’s back.
He repeatedly boasted of or alluded to some kind of knowledge or relationship with WikiLeaks. For his trouble, Stone is now frequently cited as a potential connection between the Trump camp and individuals or groups responsible for hacking the DNC and Clinton campaign email.
Still, there’s reason to doubt his influence. Trump himself, in a New Yorker profile written by CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, called Stone a “stone-cold loser.”
“He always tries taking credit for things he never did,” the future president said.
Whether Stone has a personal connection to, or possessed any forward knowledge of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 campaign remains to be seen. In March, he downplayed contacts with “Guccifer 2.0,” an online personality who has claimed responsibility for the DNC hack, denying any potential collusion.
Days later, Stone was again in his natural habitat – the headlines – after he volunteered to speak with the House Intelligence Committee investigating Trump and Russia about his role as a campaign associate.
“I acknowledge I am a hardball player. I have sharp elbows. I always play politics the way it is supposed to be played,” Stone told CNN in typically theatrical tones. “But one thing isn’t in my bag of tricks – treason.”