Roger Stone, the former Trump campaign adviser at the center of the Russia investigation, said he doesn’t “think” he discussed WikiLeaks with his old friend, Paul Manafort, while Manafort was running President Trump’s campaign.
Stone cast doubt on a bombshell report in the Guardian on Tuesday that said Manafort met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on three occasions, including in the spring of 2016 at the height of the campaign season. The report surfaced less than 24 hours after special counsel Robert Mueller accused Manafort of violating his cooperation deal with prosecutors by committing new “crimes and lies.”
“I seriously doubt that Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange in March 2016,” Stone told VICE News in an email. “If they did meet, Manafort most certainly never said anything to me about it. In fact, I don’t think we ever discussed wiki leaks [sic] at all during the time he was with the campaign.”
Stone’s denial wasn’t as categorical as Manafort’s, who, in a statement released this afternoon, threatened possible legal action against the Guardian.
“This story is totally false and deliberately libelous. I have never met Julian Assange or anyone connected to him,” Manafort wrote in a statement sent to VICE News Tuesday. “I have never been contacted by anyone connected to Wikileaks, either directly or indirectly. I have never reached out to Assange or Wikileaks on any matter. We are considering all legal options against the Guardian who proceeded with this story even after being notified by my representatives that it was false.”
Mueller’s team is investigating Manafort’s meeting with Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno in Quito in 2017, CNN reported Tuesday. Investigators are particularly interested in whether the two men discussed WikiLeaks or Assange.
Stone’s role as a potential link between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks has reportedly been the subject of intense scrutiny in Mueller’s probe into Trump’s ties to Russia.
But Stone’s version of events has seemed to shift over time. After appearing to boast of his direct line to WikiLeaks during the campaign, Stone then dismissed his own earlier position as a “bluff” intended to “punk Democrats on Twitter.”
After The New York Times published emails in which Stone appeared to present himself to the Trump campaign as a conduit to inside information from WikiLeaks, Stone blasted former Trump campaign head Steve Bannon “or his hatchet man Sam Nunberg” for leaking the exchange.
WikiLeaks also denied the meeting with Manafort ever occurred.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guilliani, told the Huffington Post Tuesday that the president did not know of any meetings between Manafort and Assange.
“I have no idea if Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange. The president has no idea if Paul Manafort met with Julian Assange,” Guiliani said. “I don’t care if he met Assange over the years. I know there were no conversations between the president and Manafort about Assange.”
Stone and Manafort have known each other for years, and worked together in the legendary D.C. lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly in the 1980s.
Manafort has previously acknowledged that Stone helped land him a job on Trump’s campaign.
“Roger was one of two or three people who strongly recommended me, yes,” Manafort says in the documentary film "Get Me Roger Stone."
Cover image: Longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone arrives to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)