WASHINGTON (CN) — The Justice Department put a comedian on the witness stand Thursday, locking in testimony that, while at times jocular, colored texts and emails presented as evidence that federal prosecutors hope will prove longtime Trump associate Roger Stone engaged in witness tampering.
Randy Credico’s testimony flowed from a childlike demeanor, jumping from one cultural reference to the next. The radio show host even volunteered to do a Bernie Sanders impression for U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson.
She shut down the offer. Jackson later told the witness “I understand you are a comedian — but this is serious business,” when he seemed primed to adopt the voice of a character from “The Godfather.” Her warnings failed to stifle laughter from members of the public seated in the courtroom.
Credico promised to refrain but continuously tossed in film and television references playfully from “The Addams Family,” “The Sopranos,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and more.
Justice Department attorney Aaron Zelinsky was determined to keep the witness, who is critical to the government’s case, on course.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election, as well as obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Federal prosecutors told the jury on Wednesday that Stone lied under oath to Congress that Credico was his backchannel to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Credico, under oath, denied he ever served as a go-between.
The government has rapidly introduced a trove of emails and texts the two men sent, showing Stone increasingly threatened Credico not to comply with a subpoena to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in 2017.
Audio from Stone’s 2016 interview on Credico’s show played out in court Thursday.
Stone said he believed Assange was in possession of emails hacked from the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“We have a mutual friend, somebody we both trust,” he said in the interview. Credico testified he was not the person Stone referred to on air.
Assange later in 2016 appeared as a guest on Credico’s show. But the witness said Thursday his only contact with the man holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London was through a secretary to schedule the interview.
Credico also admitted he had led Stone to believe he would pass a message to Assange about appearing on Stone’s own show — but told the jury he never followed through.
Responding to questions from Zelinsky on Thursday, Credico said he had no agenda in reaching out to Assange.
When reports began to surface that both Stone and Credico had ties to WikiLeaks, Credico reassured Stone there was “nothing to worry about.”
“No one’s communicated directly with Assange except for on my radio show I just delivered a letter to him,” Credico texted Stone in October 2016.
Fast-forward to late 2017 and Stone is turning up the pressure on Credico not to testify.
“‘Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan,’” Stone texted on Nov. 19, 2017 — quoting his longtime hero President Richard Nixon.
Justice Department attorney Jonathan Kravis asked former FBI agent Michelle Taylor, who testified Thursday morning, to explain the message.
“It’s a paraphrase of something Nixon said to John Dean and John Mitchell during the Watergate investigation,” she said.
The prosecutor also asked Taylor to shed light on the multiple references Stone made to “The Godfather Part II” in texts to Credico, telling him to pull a “Frank Pentangeli.”
“[Pentangeli] says he doesn’t know anything about it. He’s pressed and he says ‘Oh, I was in the olive oil business with his father but that was a long time ago,’” she said quoting a scene from the film where the character is set to testify to a congressional committee. “The senators say [Pentangeli] was contradicting a sworn statement he had already provided.”
Dismissing the Pentangeli exchange, Stone’s attorneys told the jury on Wednesday that Credico “does impressions of various people including Pentangeli.” Credico — smiling and saying, “You’re tempting me to do the voice” — testified he never performed the bit for Stone.
Sending the jury home for the night, Jackson cautioned them “don’t go home and download ‘The Godfather’ on Netflix.”
As early as January 2017, Credico texted Stone saying: “I have pieced it all together…so you may as well tell the truth that you had no back-channel or there’s a guy you were talking about early August.”
Blind to Stone’s relationship with Jerome Corsi — the conspiracy theorist Stone dispatched to London in 2016 to make contact with Assange, government evidence presented Wednesday revealed — Credico repeatedly questioned why Stone testified he was the defendant’s intermediary.
But Stone held his ground.
“What the fuck is your problem. Neither of us has done anything wrong or illegal,” Stone texted Credico on Dec. 1, 2017 at 3:01 a.m. “If you turned over anything to the FBI you’re a fool.”
Weeks later, Credico texted Stone on Dec. 24, 2017, “Why didn’t you tell them the truth? Now you put yourself in the crosshairs of criminal charges.”
Credico did avoid testifying, asserting his Fifth Amendment right as Stone instructed. But investigators on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team would turn their attention to his WikiLeaks ties, and Credico told Stone.
“Waste of your time–tell him to go fuck himself,” Stone texted Credico on Jan. 25, 2018.
The House Intelligence Committee report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign — published one year prior to the Mueller report — stated Stone had disputed in his testimony under oath that he had advance knowledge of the source or content of the WikiLeaks hacked documents.
“Despite these multiple contacts, the Committee did not find any evidence contradicting Stone’s claim,” the report states before noting that six witnesses with information on WikiLeaks invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying.
FBI-obtained phone records presented as evidence Thursday also reveal the famous political provocateur made over 50 calls, from January to November 2016, to top Trump campaign actors — including Steve Bannon and Paul Manafort — while cultivating channels to Assange.
Stone dialed up then-candidate Donald Trump on two occasions directly. Judge Jackson asked Taylor, the former FBI agent, if the records, obtained through search warrants by Mueller’s team, show only the number of calls.
“True, we don’t know the content,” said the witness, who served on the special counsel’s investigation. But a colorful graph outlining the data marks 20 calls to former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, set to testify against Stone as a cooperating government witness.
Stumbling through cross-examining Taylor, Stone’s attorney, Bruce Rogow, seemed set on unraveling the validity of the Justice Department’s evidence.
But Rogow was tripped up by multiple objections from federal prosecutors, sustained by the judge, who later said the arduous questioning by the defense tested the jury’s patience.
“Not every lawyer has to be as caffeinated as Mr. Kravis,” Jackson said, referring to the Justice Department lawyer. “But the pacing of the cross was extremely slow.”
Under direct, Kravis looked to shut down the defense argument that Stone did not lie to Congress but instead answered questions within the parameters the committee set for its investigation.
He asked Taylor to read off a line from the testimony transcript that referred to “yet-unproven allegations” that Russia was linked to WikiLeaks hacking the Democratic National Committee.
“Who is the person that spoke that line?” Kravis asked the witness.
“Mr. Stone,” Taylor answered, concluding her five hours in the witness box. The statement drove home that Stone was aware the committee was looking into WikiLeaks as part of its Russia investigation.
The Justice Department will continue with Credico’s testimony on Friday, followed by a third government witness. Gates and Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, will testify as the trial continues to unfold in the coming weeks.