President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign CEO Steve Bannon delivered potentially damaging testimony on Friday against Roger Stone, describing communicating with Trump’s longtime adviser about WikiLeaks despite Stone’s later denials and saying he believed Stone “had a relationship” with the website’s founder.
Bannon testified that he had viewed Stone as the “access point” between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which disclosed numerous stolen Democratic emails in the months before the 2016 election that were damaging to Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton.
After testifying, Bannon – a prominent conservative political strategist and former senior White House adviser to Trump – told reporters he appeared as a prosecution witness in Stone’s trial in federal court only because he was subpoenaed.
U.S. intelligence agencies and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller determined that the emails were stolen by Russian state-backed hackers as part of Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the election and boost Trump’s candidacy.
“I was led to believe he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange,” Bannon said of Stone, referring to the WikiLeaks founder.
Stone – a self-described “dirty trickster” and “agent provocateur” – has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, witness tampering and lying to the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee in its investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election. The veteran Republican operative, a friend and ally of Trump for some four decades, faces a possible decades-long sentence if convicted.
The Trump campaign relished the release of the hacked emails and was eager to learn about future releases but the president and his campaign team have denied conspiring with Russia.
Stone told the House committee in sworn testimony that he had never communicated with any members of Trump’s campaign about WikiLeaks or Julian Assange.
Bannon, appearing on the third day of testimony in the trial, said he and Stone had discussed WikiLeaks on several occasions before and after Bannon joined Trump’s campaign in August 2016. These included an Oct. 4, 2016, exchange in which Bannon emailed Stone after an Assange news conference had failed to produce damaging information on Clinton as expected.