Add longtime Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone to the inquiring minds who want to know why and how the Trump-friendly National Enquirer came to splash a sordid story headlined “TRUMP ADVISOR SEX SCANDAL—PAUL MANAFORT’S SICK AFFAIR.”
“It’s very disturbing. I felt very badly for him last night. And of course, I’m trying to figure out the source,” Stone told The Daily Beast on Thursday, the morning after the president’s favorite supermarket tabloid exposed the alleged extramarital shenanigans of Stone’s close friend and former business associate Manafort.
“TARGET IN FBI-RUSSIA PROBE ALSO CHEATED WITH WOMAN HALF HIS AGE!” the Enquirer’s headline added.
Stone, who co-founded a powerhouse Washington lobbying firm with Manafort in the 1980s and was instrumental in Trump hiring him for several months to run his presidential campaign last year, is—like Manafort—facing congressional and special counsel scrutiny for his possible role in allegedly colluding with Russian operatives to help elect Trump.
Both men have vehemently denied such conduct, although Manafort’s home in Northern Virginia was recently raided by an army of FBI agents, to scoop up evidence in the widening investigation being run by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“On motive—the motive would be what? Antagonize the guy? It makes no sense. Why would he want to do that?” Stone said, responding to widespread speculation in the media that Trump—good friends with top Enquirer executive David Pecker, who has basically put the tabloid at the president’s service—would have suggested or even tacitly approved of the take-down of his former campaign chairman.
“The president doesn’t do things that aren’t logical and have no motive,” said Stone, the subject of recent Netflix documentary in which he proudly recounts his shady exertions on behalf of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Trump. “So the motive would be—what? The stories from a month and a half ago that Manafort had, like, flipped, and would testify against Trump, are completely false…Manafort had nothing to do with the Russians and he’s not going to come forward and say that he did and that Trump knew about it—because it never happened.”
That, of course, is a highly debatable assertion. Manafort, for one thing, was, along with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., one of the top campaign officials who attended a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with a well-connected Russian lawyer who they hoped would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Several weeks ago as the investigation heated up, Manafort belatedly—and retroactively--filed as a foreign agent, as federal law requires, after acknowledging that his firm had received $17.1 million in payments from the pro-Vladimir Putin party of ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, whom Manafort had advised for a decade.
Bloomberg News reported on Thursday that Mueller, in his investigation of Russian meddling in the election, has also subpoenaed the global bank records of Manafort and of his various companies and business associates.
Stone, for his part, has been under scrutiny for his alleged contacts with Wikileaks—which released damaging private emails from Democratic Party officials and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta as Election Day approached—and a Russian hacker known as “Guccifer.”
The Enquirer’s Manafort exposé, which was actually published in the tabloid’s print edition eight days ago but went unnoticed by the media-political complex until it was posted online on Wednesday, claimed that “the career lobbyist has been rocked by a sleazy sex scandal in which he was caught cheating on his wife—with a hottie younger than his own daughters!”
The story quoted an alleged “White House insider” as saying: “President Trump has been focused on draining the swamp in Washington, D.C…Meanwhile, one of his trusted advisers was bedding another woman behind his wife’s back.”
Claiming to have seen “hacked and leaked” text messages from the 68-year-old Manafort’s 32-year-old daughter Andrea, the story quoted her: “He’s been taking this W—RE on trips instead of my mom,” and “He has taken her on his playlist of places…As in like the restaurant he celebrates my mom’s bday every year w(sic) her. The place they went on their honeymoon too. All their restaurants they go to when they go to Paris for decades.”
Stone, who frequently appears on Trump-supporting conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s InfoWars radio program, told The Daily Beast that after he read the Enquirer story around 7 o’clock last night, he began phoning contacts in Trump World in an attempt to learn the motivations behind the hit job, but still hasn’t spoken to Manafort.
“First of all I don’t know if anything in the story is true—I assume it is because of the quotations from his daughters,” Stone said. “I only began making inquiries about this late last night…I know my way around the swamp. I have have made some calls and I imagine I’ll get to the bottom of it.”
Trump’s influence with the Enquirer, and especially with Pecker, who broke with the tabloid’s non-political tradition and formally endorsed his presidential candidacy last year, has been well-documented.
In June, MSNBC host and frequent Trump critic Joe Scarborough accused the president of using his leverage with the tabloid to extract an apology from Scarborough.
The Morning Joe host claimed he was repeatedly told by White House aides that Trump would have an Enquirer story killed about Scarborough’s alleged long-ago extramarital affair with his then-married cohost Mika Brzezinski, now Scarborough’s fiancée, if the apology was forthcoming.
The tabloid issued a statement denying Scarborough’s claim.
While Trump is said to have planted stories in the tabloid over a decades’-long relationship, and frequently touted the Enquirer’s attacks on his opponents during last year’s primary campaign—notably hit pieces claiming Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had affairs with female staffers and that his Cuban-born father had been somehow connected to the assassination of John F. Kennedy—Stone said he’s baffled that Pecker would publish a squalid attack on Manafort’s personal life.
“There’s another guy who has no motives,” he said about Pecker. “Pecker’s coverage on the whole Russian collusion and delusion and its falsity has been complete.”
Dylan Howard, chief content officer and vice president of AMI, the Enquirer’s parent company, scoffed at the speculation about Pecker and Trump’s possible role.
"The 'mainstream media's' obsession with a story that was published more than a week ago is baffling,” Howard said in a statement. “Not only does it underscore the lack of true reporting happening at many outlets, but more important, it is clear proof that no one outside of myself or my editors influence the editorial of The National Enquirer.
"We continue to do what all of the other media outlets looking for a cheap story apparently don't, we report. Our story is the result of hard working editors who received a tip weeks ago, investigated it, determined it was in the public interest, and delivered it to our readers on August 2. That's journalism."
As for Manafort, “I feel badly for him and his family,” Stone said. “Nobody has to see their personal flaws splashed over the front pages. I’ve been there,” he added, referring to newspaper stories from years ago detailing Stone’s sexual escapades in swingers' clubs. “I’m sure I will be attacked by others who would like to troll the president. It’s just part of the game.”