Norwalk native Roger Stone and New Britain native Paul Manafort share a love of fine clothes, both cut their teeth in Connecticut politics and together broke with conventional norms as GOP consultants.
Now their meteoric careers in Republican politics are crashing and burning because of one man – Donald Trump.
Manafort has pleaded guilty to a long list of federal crimes and faces serious jail time, while Stone has been indicted on felony counts that may also bring him time behind bars.
Their close personal and professional relationship began at a young age, born of their shared love of GOP politics. Over the decades, their fates continue to be entwined. They now share the notoriety of being at the center of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Some say the Connecticut natives could take down the president.
Stone, now 66, was a high school student when he met Manafort in 1970 at the Connecticut state convention of young Republicans. Born in Norwalk and the son of a well-drilling company owner, he had shown up at the event without a hotel room. Manafort, the son of the mayor of New Britain and a leader of the Young Republicans, stepped in to help.
That began their special relationship. A few years later, Manafort managed Stone’s candidacy for national chairman of the Young Republicans.
Besides sharing a home state and love for fine tailoring, “together, they campaigned with gleeful ruthlessness,” says the Atlantic.
Although he eventually became Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort was better known as a lobbyist, sometimes representing dubious clients, including Filipino kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos and Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Stone also lobbied, but seemed to prefer his work in political campaigns that earned him the reputation of a “dirty trickster” or in his words “provocateur.”
An on-and-off adviser to Trump for more than 30 years, Stone pulled some of his latest tricks during the 2016 campaign. They included promoting the story that Hillary Clinton suffered from serious illnesses, including perhaps brain damage from a concussion she suffered in 2012, and pushing another falsehood, that a young Arkansas man named Danney Williams was the illegitimate son of former President Bill Clinton and a black prostitute. Stone also promoted tee shirts with the word “RAPE” under Bill Clinton’s visage.
In a January, 2017 interview with the Connecticut Mirror, Stone said he became interested in politics at an early age, after a neighbor in New Canaan gave him a book, “The Conscience of a Conservative” by Barry Goldwater.
“I suppose that’s what galvanized me,” Stone said. “I knew immediately this was the business I wanted to be in. I was 12 years old. Previously I wanted to be an actor. That’s what they say, ‘Politics is show business for ugly people.’”
Stone told the Mirror he perpetrated the stunts aimed at hurting Clinton’s candidacy independently of Trump’s campaign. But he also said was in contact with Trump during the campaign after Trump became president.
“From time to time, I can reach him, but I don’t abuse it,” Stone said in 2017. “He’s upbeat and friendly. He’s very optimistic.”
A Nixon tattoo
Stone’s first national campaign took place in 1972, when he was appointed chairman of Youth for Nixon for Connecticut by Gov. John Davis Lodge who would become Stone’s mentor. At 19, Stone was the youngest member of the staff in President Richard Nixon’s notorious CREEP — Committee for the Re-Election of the President — where he learned tactics and the art of negative campaign advertising.
Stone gave the notorious Nixon “V” for victory sign after he was released on bail last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., following his indictment on seven federal counts ranging from witness tampering to obstruction of justice. He continues to be a fervid supporter of the late president, evidenced by the large image of Nixon’s face tattooed between his shoulder blades.
Richard Foley, a former Connecticut GOP party chairman, said he first met Stone at Penny’s Diner in Fairfield with other Young Republicans, including John T. “Terry” Dolan — a Norwalk native who would later create the National Conservative Political Action Committee.
“At this stage we were all pretty green,” Foley said. “Roger was sort of on the fast track and the rest of us were sort of slogging along. Roger got involved with Nixon and [Pat] Buchanan and got sucked up in the stratosphere.”
Foley also knew Manafort. “Over the years, we worked on and off together,” he said. Their collaborations included the 1992 campaign of Republican candidate Brook Johnson, who failed to unseat former Sen. Chris Dodd, Foley said.
Manafort, 69, has a name that’s well known in central Connecticut. Besides being a three-term Republican mayor of New Britain, his father Paul Manafort Sr. belonged to a long list of civic organizations and was once the head of the state’s public works department. The construction company founded by Paul Manafort’s Italian immigrant grandfather has built train stations, roadways and other projects all over the region.
The younger Manafort inherited his father’s political ambitions. As a teenager he joined a mock city council and campaigned for Connecticut GOP gubernatorial candidate Thomas Meskill.
Manafort “was a very likable fellow –,” said Foley, “the type of guy that other guys wanted to hang out with.”
Paul Manafort Drive, which is named after Manafort’s father, curves through the campus of Central Connecticut State University and was the subject of a fierce debate in New Britain last year after Trump’s former campaign chief was convicted of financial fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
Despite an online petition demanding the street be renamed, New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart held fast, making only a slight alteration in the street’s name, changing it to “Paul Manafort Sr. Drive and saying the name of the elder Manafort shouldn’t be tarnished by his son’s actions.
‘Very intense’ guys
By the late ’70s, both Manafort and Stone could foresee Ronald Reagan’s ascendance, and they both became players in his 1980 campaign.
That year, Manafort convinced a skeptical Stone and two other associates, Charlie Black and Peter Kelly open a small lobbying shop called Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. Only Black, a Texan, did not hail from Connecticut, although Kelly differed from his other three partners in that he was a Democrat. A bipartisan firm was something new in Washington D.C., helping elect politicians, sometimes by playing both sides of a race, and then lobbying the winner. It also took global lobbying to new heights.
Kelly said he did was introduced to Manafort and Stone by former Bridgeport Mayor Nick Panuzio, who was working as the lobbying firm’s manager. Kelly said he was finance chairman of the National Democratic Party and knew people who wanted advice about the new Reagan administration, so he referred them to Manafort and Stone. After several years, he was asked to join the firm.
Kelly said he was intrigued to join one of the first bipartisan lobbying firms and one with so many international clients. “So I said ‘sure, that would be great’” Kelly said.
Although their political careers were entwined, Kelly said each man was very different.
‘”Manafort was a brilliant, young, energetic guy,” who was keen on analytics, Kelly said. “Then he gradually transformed to what you see now.”
Stone, meanwhile, was always a trickster, Kelly said. “He was always a whack job,” he said.
Manafort and Stone left the firm after it was sold to Burson-Marsteller, an international public relations company, in 1991. Kelly eventually returned to Connecticut, where he became a noted lobbyist in Hartford.
Foley said he has the same impression of Manafort and Stone as he did when they were all young men decades ago. “They are very intense,” he said.
That intensity may have led to their legal problems today.
Poking the tiger
Stone persuaded Trump to hire Manafort as a campaign chairman. Nobody seemed to think that Manafort’s old clients would pose a problem. Then the Trump campaign dropped Manafort after the New York Times broke a story that said a ledger in a Yanukovych party clubhouse showed the lobbyist received a payment of $12.5 million.
Mueller’s team prosecuted Manafort on federal financial charges related to his lobbying work for Yanukovych, but a plea deal has fallen apart after prosecutors say Manafort broke his plea agreement by lying to them and the FBI. He is scheduled to appear in federal court Monday regarding the matter.
Meanwhile, Stone is accused by Mueller’s team of lying to Congress about his quest for information about WikiLeaks’ plans to release information damaging to Clinton.
At about 4 p.m. on Oct. 7, 2016, the Washington Post wrote about a recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women. Less than an hour later, Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, began releasing hacked e-mails from the account of John Podesta, the chairman of Clinton’s campaign.
In a tweet the day before the WikiLeaks dump, Stone previewed the coming threat to Clinton’s campaign.
“Julian Assange will deliver a devastating expose on Hillary at a time of his choosing,” he tweeted on Oct. 6, 2016. “I stand by my prediction. #handcuffs4hillary.”
Stone has also been charged with witness tampering (besides threatening him with physical harm, Stone warned he would take a therapy dog away from a former associate who was cooperating with the investigation.)
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Speaking to reporters in a Washington hotel ballroom this week, Stone said “I did not coordinate anything with the Trump campaign or with WikiLeaks about their disclosures.”
“My purpose was to hype the disclosures to bring voters’ and media attention to them. That’s called politics,” Stone said.
Instead of lying low while Mueller investigated whether there were any Trump campaign ties to Russia, Stone increased his 24/7 media campaign and blistering attacks on Mueller, that among other things, aim to raise money for his legal fees.
That strategy included allowing a documentary film crew to follow him for more than five years surrounding Trump’s rise to the pinnacle of political power. The documentary is available on Netflix.
“Do I feel bad for Paul? Yes I do,” said Foley. “But Roger has spent the last 18 months poking the tiger and acts surprised when the tiger reacts.”