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Roger Stone suddenly admits to meeting with a Russian national to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton

Mueller has been asking about the meeting. Stone claims he forgot about it till now.

Roger Stone
Roger Stone.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

We’ve learned of yet another shady 2016 meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian national. And yet again, the purpose was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The Washington Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia and Rosalind Helderman reported Sunday morning that in late May 2016, longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone met with a Russian national calling himself “Henry Greenberg” at a restaurant in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

At that point, Stone was not officially part of the Trump campaign. However, Michael Caputo, a longtime business associate of Stone’s who was still on the Trump campaign at that point, had arranged the meeting.

The topic, Stone and Caputo now admit to the Post reporters, was to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

However, as is invariably the case when we learn of meetings like this, Stone and Caputo insist that nothing actually ended up coming from it. Stone’s current story about this meeting he’s only now disclosing is that he was asked for $2 million for the information but turned it down because he knew Trump was too cheap to pay for it.

Stone and Caputo claim they then both “forgot” about the meeting, per the Post — neither mentioned it during sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, and Stone has previously claimed that he never talked “to anybody who was identifiably Russian” in the relevant period. Caputo says he was only reminded that it happened when special counsel Robert Mueller’s team asked him about it in a grand jury interview last month.

We don’t yet know whether there’s any larger import to the meeting, or whether it was connected to other secretive events like Donald Trump Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting (which took place about two weeks later). But it’s probably best not to take the participants’ word for what went on at face value, considering they are only now bothering to admit that it even took place.

Stone and Caputo seem to be strategically leaking this and trying to spin it on their terms

The Post’s story is strikingly different than the series of incremental New York Times scoops that revealed the existence of Don Jr.’s meeting last year and, gradually, more and more of what happened there.

Indeed, it reads a whole lot like a deliberate and coordinated rollout by Stone and Caputo, who both spoke extensively on the record to the Post. They appear to have concluded that the meeting, secret until now, was bound to be leaked soon — and they’re trying to spin it as best they can.

For instance, both Stone and Caputo attempt to defend themselves by asserting that they now think the meeting was an FBI setup, since “Henry Greenberg” (who also goes by the name Henry Oknyansky) previously said in a court filing that he’s been an FBI informant.

But they have no evidence that the Clinton dirt offer was tied to the FBI, and Greenberg’s 2015 court filing also said his cooperation with the FBI had concluded. Also, the timing for it being an FBI setup doesn’t even make sense — Stone took this meeting two months before the FBI even opened its Trump campaign/Russia probe.

So this reads like Stone and Caputo are trying to piggyback on Trumpworld’s larger effort to spin the Russia probe as an FBI/“deep state” setup, in hopes of excusing a meeting that looks very bad for them.

Caputo learned for certain that Mueller knew about the meeting, and had texts to prove it, during his grand jury testimony on May 2 — so a further cover-up to hide its existence from the special counsel was obviously pointless. Another sign that Stone and Caputo want this out now is that last Friday, Caputo sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee “amending” his testimony to disclose the meeting. That committee is notoriously leaky, so Caputo may have wanted to get his preferred version of events out before the news inevitably leaked. Hence the sudden chattiness to the Washington Post about something he’s been silent on until now.

The big picture, though, is that in June 2018, a year and a half after the 2016 campaign ended, we are still learning of new shady contacts between close Trump allies and individuals tied to Russia — in this case, again tied specifically to getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. The question is still whether a deal or agreement of some sort was ever formalized.