Dana Milbank: The Roger Stone clown show is the Trump presidency in microcosm
For once, Roger Stone was at a loss for words.
The longtime confidant of President Trump had given nonstop interviews and news conferences since Friday morning, when the FBI pounded on his door, then charged him with seven criminal counts related to alleged lies during the probe of Russia’s election interference.
But in Washington on Monday, as his lawyer entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf, the flamboyant politico uttered just eight words during his 13-minute arraignment (two “yes, your honors” and an “I do”), and then just four more as a scrum of journalists followed him to the exits: “No comments. No questions.”
Stone didn’t need to speak. He already was in his element: a maelstrom, with himself at the center.
Scores of photographers and spectators poured into the street outside the courthouse. Chants of “We love Roger!” dueled with “Lock him up!” A portable sound system boomed “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” and two men waved Russian flags.
Stone made his way through the sea of signs (“Free Stone, Jail Hillary,” “You helped Putin steal our democracy”) and zoomed off in a black SUV, leaving Federal Protective Service police to disperse the crowd. One of the last to be shooed away wore an orange wig and carried a sign saying, simply, “This is a sign.”
Yes, it is a sign — that Stone has created another circus. He was caricatured by Steve Martin on “Saturday Night Live.” Others go silent when indicted; Stone went on CNN, ABC and Fox News (both Hannity and Tucker Carlson) to tout his website and his next book (“Woodward and Bernstein: The Godfathers of Fake News”) and to raise $2 million for his legal defense (so what if his lawyers aren’t certified to practice in Washington?).
Sure, the 66-year-old is facing up to 45 years behind bars. But now everybody gets to see his natty outfits. His pocket squares! His felt homburg!
“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” he told reporters after his arrest.
In this sense, Stone’s clown act of the past few days — simultaneously self-promoting and self-defeating — has been the Trump presidency in microcosm. Like his outrageous friend and adviser, Trump loves attention, even the bad kind.
Now Trump is trying to say Stone “didn’t even work for me anywhere near the Election!” (Too bad a campaign official sent Stone a congratulatory “well done” message after WikiLeaks released stolen Hillary Clinton campaign emails.) But Stone has forever been at Trump’s side (when I watched Trump test the waters for a presidential run in 2000, Stone, and his dog, were on Trump’s 727), and Trump could no more disown Stone than his orange pompadour.
Like Trump, Stone is vulgar. He informed George Stephanopoulos that the indictment is “thin as piss on a rock.” Like Trump, Stone loves conspiracies. He alleges his arrest is part of a conspiracy to install Nancy Pelosi as president, who would “make Hillary Clinton vice president and then step aside.”
Like Trump, Stone is post-factual. He first said the FBI agents were “extraordinarily courteous” on Friday but later complained about “Gestapo tactics,” an attempt to “terrorize” his dogs, and “greater force than was used to take down bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar.”
Like Trump, Stone can sound barking mad. He threatened the fluffy white therapy dog of another witness, the indictment alleges. A dirty trickster for Richard M. Nixon in 1972 (the late president’s visage is supposedly tattooed on Stone’s back), he was dropped by Bob Dole in 1996 over an ad he and his wife placed for sex partners in a swinger’s magazine.
And, like Trump, Stone is a portrait of eccentric vanity. At the defense table in Courtroom 3, his face was tan (he favors tinted creams), his white hair oxidized, his blue shirt coordinated with his pocket square, his dark eyebrows unnaturally suspended in a look of cartoonish surprise.
Stone, who has chronicled his excellent adventure on Instagram, complained that FBI agents seized him before he could don “a suit and tie for my mug shot.” (Tragically, his polo shirt exposed his midriff when he flashed a victory sign for the cameras.)
By the time he arrived in D.C., Stone was suitably attired in tweed, turtleneck and homburg. Reporters mobbed him. Stone was not displeased. “As a person of fashion, will it bother you if you have to wear orange?” somebody asked.
“I look good in pinstripes,” he replied. “Those are the only stripes I look good in.”
Perhaps the Bureau of Prisons will take that into consideration.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.