Like a Roiling Stone

For a guy who’s currently on trial for crimes that could land him in federal prison for the rest of his life, Roger Stone is a remarkably lucky fellow. He’s lucky that his trial is being largely overlooked because of an impeachment inquiry about President Donald Trump, and you could make a strong case he’s lucky that it took so long for karma and the law to catch up with him.
Stone stands accused of lying to Congress about coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Wikileaks, which Trump’s former Central Intelligence Agency director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a “hostile intelligence service” aligned with Russia, as well as other foreign agents. So far former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and former Trump campaign and administration advisor Steve Bannon have testified that Stone boasted of his connections to Wikileaks’ mastermind Julian Assange, and recall him bragging about upcoming Wikileaks disclosures to candidate Trump, and they’ve got text messages and e-mails to corroborate their testimony.
The foppish and ostentatious Stone’s defense is that he constantly spews boastful balderdash, and that it’s mere coincidences all of his predictions about the upcoming Wikileaks proved true. Given Stone’s track record of dirty tricks and clean escapes it just might work.
He’s been in the news since the days of President Richard Nixon, when he was one of the Committee to Reelect the President’s rat fuckers” — sorry for the language, but that’s why called themselves, and the political vocabulary is unavoidably more vulgar in the age o Trump — and has since remained a prominent practitioner of what he proudly calls the “dark arts” of political dirty tricks. For a long while he was a partner with Gates and former Trump campaign chairman and current federal inmate Paul Manafort in a D.C. lobbying firm notorious for representing the world’s most odious dictators, and he has a portrait of Nixon tattooed on his back, so it should surprise no one that he’s also a decades-long friend and informal advisor to Trump.
A special counsel investigation into Russia’s meddling the presidential election documented numerous contacts between the Trump administration and foreigners, and indicted Stone and convicted Manafort and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and others for lying about it under oath, but it didn’t find prove of a criminal conspiracy and declined to bring charges for ten instances of trying to obstruct the investigation, so Trump has claimed complete vindication and no longer worries about that. Instead he’s being being investigated by a House impeachment inquiry about his dealings with Ukraine, which is getting a lot of attention, and for now Stone seems to have nothing to do with that, having been defenestrated and disavowed by Trump long before all that mess started, so the trial is relegated to the inside pages and the bottom of the news hour.
Which is probably good news for both Stone and Trump, who have thus far been a lucky couple of guys. At this point Stone won’t sway a federal jury in Washington, D.C., with his loyalty to Trump, and the Republicans defending Trump on the impeachment inquiry committees won’t be calling Stone as a character witness. In any case we’ll be following both proceedings, as they’re both binge-worthy.

— Bud Norman

At Long Last, Assange’s Arrest

Julian Assange has gone from left wing hero to right wing hero to an arrestee of the United Kingdom awaiting extradition to the United States, where there’s no telling what might happen to him next.
By now you probably know that Assange is the founder and publisher and editor and seemingly the only employee of the Wikileaks web site, which has won a worldwide readership by exposing documents illegally obtained from governments around the world. Way back in ’10 he published a trove of documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq obtained from Army Private Bradley Manning, who somehow had access to the material that exposed to American allies and tactics to the enemy, and has since had government-paid sex change surgery and become Chelsea Manning while serving a 35-year prison sentence. Of course he or she became such a cause celebre on the left that his or her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama, which of course outraged everyone on the right.
In ’16 Wikileaks published a trove of illegally hacked e-mails from the Democratic National Committee that proved embarrassing for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, which might or might not have been but almost certainly were obtained from the Russian government, and at that point the left disavowed Assange and a strange new right embraced him. “I love Wikileaks,” Republican presidential nominee told his enthralled rally crowds, and his apologists were explaining how Assange was no different from The York Times publishing the “Pentagon Papers” about the Vietnam War Daniel Ellsberg had illegally purloined, which the left still celebrates and the right used to consider treason. Trump won the nomination either in spite of or because of his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well the war he draft-dodged in Vietnam, so his embrace of Assange seemed entirely fulsome.
Shortly after becoming a left-wing darling back in ’10 the Swedish government issued a warrant for Assange’s arrest on charges of sexual assault and rape, but Assange claimed he was the victim of a right-wing American plot that the Swedish government was somehow in on and thus gained refuge from the left-wing and anti-American Ecuadorian government at its embassy in the United Kingdom. He’d been stuck inside the building until Thursday, but after Wikileaks recently leaked some documents he was rather brusquely escorted out of the embassy and into the rough arms of the British authorities.
Although we assume that Ecuador’s embassy in London is a pleasant place to be, the years Assange spent entirely inside its walls do not seem to have been unkind. The last photos of Assange showed a rather dashing young fellow with a full head of distinguished wavy white hair, but the video of of him being dragged out showed a crouched and balding fellow with an ugly white beard, clutching a copy of some conspiracy theory book, hardly the sort of heroic figure that either the right or left could embrace.
The Brits plan to turn him over to the Americans, rather than the Swedes, which will surely prove interesting.
The “fake news” National Broadcasting Company has some all-too-real video of Trump praising Wikileaks 141 times at 56 campaign rallies, but on Thursday Trump was telling reporters that “I know nothing about Wikileaks. It’s not my thing. I know there’s something about Julian Assange, I’ve been seeing what happens with Julian Assange. And that will be a determination, I imagine, by the Attorney General.” Meanwhile, Assange’s erstwhile apologists on the left looked almost as ridiculous.
As modestly reluctant as we are to claim the moral high ground, we never did like this Assange fellow. Although we’re free press purists who will defend the publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Wikileaks disclosures revealed the identities of American collaborators who were killed as a result, which was more than the Pentagon paper did and was far more than was necessary to make a case against an arguably unjust American policy, and we think that’s a crucial difference. We never cared much for the Democratic party or its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but we nonetheless thought it outrageous that someone would illegally hack the party’s e-mails and that her opponent would publicly ask the Russian government to illegally hack her e-mails.
By now Assange is a crouched and balding and white-bearded arrestee with no friends to his right or left, and from our current vantage point on the political sidelines we don’t much care what happens to him, although it will surely take up much news space..

— Bud Norman