Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said in court on Friday that he and the Trump campaign viewed Roger Stone, a longtime Donald Trump associate, as an access point to WikiLeaks, the organization that leaked stolen emails that were damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Bannon said that during the Trump 2016 campaign, Stone “implied” that WikiLeaks had materials that would help Donald Trump and possibly hurt Hillary Clinton’s chance at the presidency.
With his 40-minute testimony, Bannon became the most high-profile witness to testify at Stone’s trial. He made clear in his testimony and to reporters as he left the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, that he was only appearing because he had been compelled to by a subpoena. Bannon’s testimony marks the start in the case of federal prosecutors beginning to tie Trump and his campaign to trying to use WikiLeaks to their advantage.
Bannon said he spoke to Stone up to a dozen times in the period of time that he led the Trump campaign, through election day, as well as every few weeks before coming onto the campaign.
Stone faces charges that include lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing justice in a case that stems from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Bannon said the Trump campaign viewed Stone as an “access point” to WikiLeaks.
“The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or to Julian Assange, but Roger would be considered, if we needed, an access point — an access point because he had implied or told me that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange,” Bannon said.
He also said that he believed that Stone had the relationship with WikiLeaks, and that an intermediary never came up.
Bannon testified that Stone “never directly” told him he could obtain information from WikiLeaks, but implied it.
Referring to the timeframe before he joined the Trump campaign, Bannon said Stone would “not frequently” mention his relationship with Assange, but he would mention it “a lot” in the media.
When asked about how Stone would talk about his relationship with WikiLeaks and Assange, Bannon said, “I wouldn’t call it bragging but maybe boasting. … He would mention it.”
One day after Bannon was publicly announced as the new head of the Trump campaign, Stone sent Bannon an email offering his advice on how to make up the major polling deficit Trump was facing.
I can help, but it “ain’t pretty,” Stone wrote.
Bannon said he interpreted that email as Stone just living up to his reputation as a master of dirty political tricks.
“Roger is an agent provocateur. He’s an expert in opposition research, he’s an expert in the tougher side of politics and when you’re this far behind you’re going to have to use every tool in the tool box… opposition research, dirty tricks, the type of things that campaigns use when they have to make up some ground,” Bannon said.
In another exchange discussed at trial, Bannon asked Stone in an October 4, 2016, email about a press conference by Julian Assange in London that turned out to be “a dud.” Bannon said he sent the email in part “to find out why there is no announcement and another is a little bit of a heckle … that nothing came out.”
Stone responded to Bannon that there were security concerns over the press conference.
Bannon took that to mean that Stone had inside information about WikiLeaks.