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It’s hard to tell the story of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was indicted on Monday, without talking about Roger Stone. Stone is a famed conservative provocateur — and Trump whisperer — who worked with Manafort on Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns in the 1980s and helped set up a powerful Washington, D.C., lobbying shop, Black, Manafort & Stone.
The 2017 Netflix documentary Get Me Roger Stone traces the roots of the Stone-Manafort relationship and provides a window into the minds of these somewhat secretive political operators. The directors of the film — Morgan Pehme, Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro — talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the Manafort indictment and any charges Stone might face from his at times informal involvement in the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Were you surprised by the Manafort indictment on Monday?
Morgan Pehme: We were not terribly surprised. Stone told us privately last month that he believed Manafort’s arrest was imminent. Still, Manafort, like Stone, has been so cautious throughout his long career as a lobbyist and political operative about stepping right up to the line of potential illegality, but not actually crossing it, that it remained plausible Mueller would not be able to pin anything concrete on him.
What was your personal impression of Manafort?
Dylan Bank: The first of a dozen or so times we asked Manafort for an interview for our film was back in March of 2012, so by the time he finally agreed to sit down with us four and a half years later, he had become something of a mythic figure in our minds. Based upon our extensive research into his life — and the pure drama of finally facing him — we were expecting someone more overtly calculating and perhaps even sinister. However, in person he came across as affable, accommodating and engaging. He spoke affectionately about his family and appeared genuinely interested in the technical side of our work, noting that his daughter is a filmmaker.
How closely tied are Manafort and Roger Stone?
Daniel DiMauro: One of the through lines of our film is Stone and Manafort’s lifelong friendship and partnership in politics. Their bond dates back to their early 20s. Manafort managed Stone’s successful 1977 campaign for the chairmanship of the Young Republicans, which was part of their plan, as Manafort says in our film, to move the “Republican Party in a more ideological direction” toward the conservative right. Then, in 1980, after playing key roles in the Reagan campaign, Manafort and Stone decided to go into business together by creating a lobbying firm to cash in on their relationships within the new administration. That company, Black, Manafort & Stone, became one of D.C.’s first mega-lobbying firms and made millions, in part because of BMS’s willingness to represent brutal third-world dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko in the Republic of the Congo and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines — work that led to their firm being branded “The Torturers’ Lobby.” BMS also represented a host of high-powered corporate clients, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, The Tobacco Institute and, starting in the early 1980s, Donald Trump.
After Manafort and Stone sold their business in the ‘90s, their careers went in different directions, but they always stayed in touch, and their relationship to this day remains close. As Manafort admits in our film, it was Stone who recommended him to Trump for the job of campaign chairman. Stone has also been instrumental in helping Manafort navigate his post-Trump campaign challenges from a public relations standpoint.
Do you expect Stone to be charged? Do you think Stone was surprised by Manafort’s indictment?
DiMauro: Stone has never expressed to us, or demonstrated through his actions, that he believes the investigation into the Russian collusion scandal poses him any direct danger. Stone loves to play the part of supervillain and seemed to be relishing all the attention he was receiving for his alleged Machiavellian machinations involving the Russians until the situation grew far more serious over the last few days. Now one of his oldest friends is facing serious prison time, and his beloved president does not seem like he’ll be able to escape this scandal unscathed.
From your experience documenting the Trump campaign and Stone’s involvement in it, do you expect more key staffers to go down? How far do you think the investigation will go?
Bank: One of Stone’s Rules — his guiding principles for politics and life that serve as chapter headings in our film — is “past is fucking prologue.” Stone first came to notice in the political arena by being the youngest person called before the Watergate grand jury, as a consequence of some dirty tricks he carried out for the Nixon re-election campaign. Whether anyone else is arrested as a result of the Russia investigation is a mystery we cannot shed any special light upon. But what is fascinating is that at 19 years old, Roger found himself a bit player in the worst political scandal of modern American history. Now, at 65, he is a key player in an imbroglio that could end up rivaling Watergate. The connection is not incidental. Stone drew upon the lessons he learned working for Nixon in plotting Trump’s trajectory to the presidency. So it’s true that past is fucking prologue when it comes to Roger’s current predicament — and he has no one to blame, or thank, but himself.
Were you surprised that Stone got suspended on Twitter? How much do you think it will hurt him to have this platform taken away?
Pehme: Roger is often his own worst enemy, and the character flaws that derail him most frequently are his volatility and temper. It was only a matter of time before he had another Twitter blowup like the one we chronicle in our film, which led to him being banned from appearing on CNN in 2016. It is certainly an inconvenience for Roger to lose easy access to his legions of Twitter followers, but he is endlessly resourceful. As soon as he was banned, he moved his invective over to a fake “official” account he created for Get Me Roger Stone, which — to be clear — has absolutely nothing to do with our film. With the mouthpiece of Alex Jones’ Infowars at his disposal and his skill at generating earned media, Stone’s voice will continue to be heard by the people he wants to influence.
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