Roger Stone, a close political confidant of President Trump, says the claim that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen accepted a half-million dollars connected to a Russian billionaire could be a problem - if the accusation is true.
"The headline would concern me if it's accurate," Stone said in a wide-ranging interview with the NBC New York I-Team Wednesday. Stone, who is on a tour promoting his new book "Stone's Rules," was quick to note that he'd seen little more than the headline itself. “I also know how the fake news media sometimes works so I’d like to see the facts before we rush to judgement.”
Stone also acknowledged that Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, has successfully ripped a page out of Trump’s political playbook by launching constant attacks against the president.
“He’s very effective on TV. He speaks in soundbites. He’s very aggressive and he remains on the attack. It’s basically the same tactic the President uses,” Stone said.
In Avenatti’s most recent revelation, he released financial records Monday that purportedly show Cohen's company accepting payments connected to Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselburg and other companies with business before the US government. (Columbus Nova, the Vekselburg-linked company, has said that it is American owned, that it hired Cohen as a business consultant after the inauguration, and that reports of Vekselburg having used the company as a conduit for payments to Cohen are false.)
Despite Stone’s acknowledgment that Avenatti’s media strategy is a good one, the infamous political operative and self-described raconteur remained skeptical the Daniels story was having any real impact on President Trump’s popularity.
"This is not in the main ring in a three-ring circus, this is in one of the side venues," said Stone, who is on a tour promoting his new book on politics and style called "Stone's Rules."
Stone also said former mayor Rudy Giuliani was generally doing well defending the president from what he called the "Gestapo tactics" of the special counsel's office, though he did have some criticism for how Giuliani handled the recent disclosures around Trump's payments to Daniels.
"On the narrow questions of the Stormy Daniels / Michael Cohen issue, in all honestly in my case all he's done is confuse me in terms of understanding exactly what happened, but overall I think he's doing a good job for the president," he said.
Stone is a longtime Republican operative and Trump campaign adviser who has had ties to the president for decades. Yet sources have told NBC News that Stone is also the focus of investigators looking at his ties during the campaign to WikiLeaks.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been asking witnesses about Stone's relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and whether the Trump campaign knew WikiLeaks was going to released hacked Democratic emails, multiple people familiar with the probe have told NBC.
Stone told News 4 there was no evidence the Russians had anything to do with those hacks, and he minimized the controversy over their involvement in the election.
"It's clear that the Russians did some things to interfere in our elections," Stone said Wednesday. "It appears to me to have been ham-handed and ineffective at best."
Stone, once described as "the cockroach of American politics" by The New Republic, was the youngest person called to testify before a grand jury investigating President Nixon and Watergate in the 1970s.