If we are lucky, or fluky, we all have a Brush With Fame. Like mine with Roger Stone, who pleaded not guilty Tuesday to obstruction of justice, witness tampering and making false statements as a target of the Mueller investigation into the presidency.
Let’s go back a couple of years. My son and I attend The New Yorker Festival annually, and in 2016 Stone was essentially the piñata on a panel about candidate Donald Trump in a large hall of Manhattan Democrats who were disdainful of the pretender and destined to vote for Hillary Clinton: two New Yorker writers, a disaffected Republican, a historian, and Stone.
Look up Stone and you will know him as the through point of Richard Nixon to Trump as a reputed dirty trickster and dapper provocateur. He knows no camera he cannot love, and he is a remarkable communicator—so he’s not a nut, at least at first.
At that festival event, my son and I sat in the front row and watched him defend for 90 minutes a candidate who even then seemed indefensible. His Access Hollywood tape had just surfaced and a lot of people thought it was over for him. It seemed on that day only a matter of time before his own party would make candidate Trump ex-candidate Trump and find a new nominee.
Stone had no such view. He shrugged off a candidate’s boast of grabbing genitals. We watched the panel session in some horror and decided we would go for a drink a couple of blocks away in an empty bar at midday. We needed one.
A few minutes later, in walked Stone.
I offered to buy him a drink. He chose soda water, although he boasted he could drink an entire bottle of Stoli. And for the next 75 minutes, idling in the tavern awaiting his car to take him to the airport and then to St. Louis to advise Trump on the next night’s debate with Clinton, we were regaled with a political passion you could not parallel in our country.
The invective was considerable and adamant: he’d seen compromising tapes, he’d known women whose careers had been deep-sixed by the Democratic candidate when they strayed too close to Bill, and he knew of many more WikiLeaks releases to come in the days ahead. (Sure enough, four days later a new trove emerged and Hillary’s campaign manager was citing Stone as the conduit.)
But it was an extraordinary scene: a career operative holding court with two total strangers (the most he knew about us was we were Canadians) and essentially arguing the case for a Trump presidency and the destruction of the Clinton dynasty. Jail was too good for her, he said, which makes me wonder, in light of the evidence Mueller has gathered, whether he will accept it as enough for him. On reflection, minutes in, it would not have been difficult to conclude he’d be a terribly inept witness if Mueller tried to flip him for the bigger fish.
I have a pretty solid stomach for partisanship, but by about a half-hour in I was pretty much prepared to ask the bartender to find us some sports TV to get us off the topic. But no, Stone kept going and going, and it was about then that I felt in the possession of a true demonizer.
For a guy with nothing particularly to gain, he was making a great effort to win over these two people who did not have a particular dog in the race. Which made me understand the virulence of his initiatives with those who mattered more, something evident in the documentary you can find on Netflix, Get Me Roger Stone.
I could sound smug and say we should be grateful we do not have a Stone in this country – those who aspire are leagues apart – but a part of me wonders why not, why our politics are much more clean-fingernailed and effete, and whether there might be anything to be gained from a hardliner who would spend decades blistering opponents with books, interviews and stunts.
I’m not there yet.
Stone eventually got up and left, and when my son tweeted some of his comments against my better judgment, Stone went online about 15 minutes later to his 800,000 followers and said he had never met him. That, I concluded in a nutshell, is the defence mechanism of the Trump set – what happened, never happened.
I lost count on the abounding disagreements in our discussion, and I’m sure he forgot about us the moment he was out the door, but I’ll never forget his last line to me as he shook my hand and thanked me for the soda.
“You’re not with the newspapers, are you?” •
Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.
Note: This column has been updated.