As Roger Stone prepared to stand trial in 2019, complaining he was under pressure from federal prosecutors to incriminate Donald Trump, a close ally of the president repeatedly assured Stone that “the boss” would likely grant him clemency if he were convicted, a recording shows.
At an event at a Trump property that October, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., predicted that Stone would be found guilty at his trial in Washington the following month but would not “do a day” in prison. Gaetz was apparently unaware they were being recorded by documentary filmmakers following Stone, who special counsel Robert Mueller had charged with obstruction of a congressional investigation.
“The boss still has a very favorable view of you,” said Gaetz, stressing that the president had “said it directly.” He also said, “I don’t think the big guy can let you go down for this.”
Gaetz at one point told Stone he was working on getting him a pardon but was hesitant to say more backstage at the event, in which speakers were being filmed for online broadcast. “Since there are many, many recording devices around right now, I do not feel in a position to speak freely about the work I’ve already done on that subject,” Gaetz said.
The lawmaker also told Stone during their conversation that Stone was mentioned “a lot” in redacted portions of Mueller’s report, appearing to refer to portions that the Justice Department had shown to select members of Congress confidentially in a secure room. “They’re going to do you, because you’re not gonna have a defense,” Gaetz told Stone.
The 25-minute recording was captured by a microphone that Stone was wearing on his lapel for a Danish film crew, which was making a feature-length documentary on the veteran Republican operative. The filmmakers allowed Washington Post reporters to review their footage in advance of the release of their film, “A Storm Foretold,” which is expected later this year.
The recording gives a rare unguarded view of Trump confidants candidly discussing legal peril away from public eyes. Mueller’s report said it was possible that Trump had both lied to investigators about his contacts with Stone and was aware Stone might provide damaging testimony against him if he chose to cooperate with prosecutors.
Gaetz is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. At the time of the conversation, the committee was investigating whether Trump might have obstructed justice by floating possible pardons to Stone and other allies who were swept up in Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
In a statement to The Post, Gaetz’s office said he was not speaking on Trump’s behalf during the pardon discussion with Stone. His remarks about secret portions of the Mueller report were not specific enough to violate the terms under which he had been permitted to view them, the statement said.
It also said the conversation was “illegally recorded.” Under Florida law, each participant in a discussion must consent for it to be recorded, provided they have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Christoffer Guldbrandsen, the film’s director, said the congressman’s remark about recording devices suggested he had no such expectation. “There is nothing illegal about this recording,” Guldbrandsen told The Post.
In response to an email seeking comment, Stone complained about The Post’s past coverage of his case and Mueller’s report. He did not address questions about the conversation with Gaetz.
Stone, a friend and adviser to Trump since the 1980s, was charged by Mueller with lying to Congress about his communications with Trump’s campaign regarding WikiLeaks’ 2016 release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign. U.S. authorities determined that the emails were hacked by Russian operatives seeking to boost Trump’s candidacy. Trump and Stone denied to Mueller that they had discussed WikiLeaks, but testimony from other Trump aides contradicted their accounts.
Stone was convicted on seven felony counts that November and sentenced to 40 months in prison. But Trump, who publicly praised Stone for not “flipping” on him, commuted his prison sentence before it began and eventually pardoned him.
Later, after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, the Danish crew filmed Stone as he pressed for Trump to preemptively pardon him, Gaetz and other allies for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election, The Post previously reported. A former White House aide recently told the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 that several Republican members of Congress, including Gaetz, had sought preemptive pardons. Trump last month said he might pardon supporters for the Jan. 6 attack if he reclaims the presidency, prompting criticism, including from some Republican lawmakers.
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Gaetz and Stone were speakers on Oct. 11, 2019, at AMPFest, a conference held by the pro-Trump group American Priority at the president’s National Doral golf resort in South Florida. The event made headlines for a video parody showing Trump violently slaying political opponents and media organizations.
Stone was scheduled to stand trial in Washington about four weeks later. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had placed him under a strict gag order early that year after an image of Jackson’s face beside a crosshairs-like logo was posted to Stone’s Instagram account. Stone apologized but was barred from discussing the case in public settings.
Before his speech at AMPFest, Stone complained to several people backstage about his case, saying it was intended to damage Trump before the 2020 election, the recording shows. He lamented his situation to Benny Johnson, a pro-Trump operative who emceed at the event. Stone claimed he would not receive a fair hearing in the capital, where Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
“I’m on trial in the District of Columbia. You can imagine the complexion of the jury pool - politically,” said Stone.
He also voiced his frustration to an unidentified event organizer before boasting about his ability to influence Trump.
“I have a 40-year record of being able to convince the big man to do what’s in his best interests,” said Stone, who has worked as a consultant to Trump’s businesses and acted as an informal adviser to his 2016 campaign.
“He’s not easy to deal with,” said Stone. “It’s complicated. And one of the problems is those who try to deal with him don’t understand the extent to which he resents any implication that he is handled or managed or directed. You can’t just say, ‘Here are your talking points, read these.’ That will never work.”
After he came offstage following his speech in the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom, Stone was joined backstage by Gaetz, a Trump favorite who was speaking later in the afternoon. With event staff coming and going nearby, their conversation turned quickly to Stone’s trial and Mueller’s investigation.
The Justice Department had publicly released a version of Mueller’s final report in which some sections were redacted to protect classified information, grand jury secrecy and active investigations or prosecutions.
Stone had asked Jackson to order prosecutors to show him a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report. On Aug. 1, 2019, Jackson granted Stone access to some redacted sections relating to him in Vol. 1 of the report, which focused on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Jackson said in her ruling that most of the redacted material in Vol. 2 - which covered Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice - related to Stone, but she declined to let him see it.
The material was covered by a protective order that barred Stone from sharing it with anyone other than his lawyers and from using it “for any purpose” other than his legal defense, Jackson wrote.
Backstage at AMPFest, Stone discussed the Mueller material with Gaetz in broad strokes, claiming that thanks to Jackson’s ruling, he’d viewed “the entire unredacted report,” which he said held no damaging details on him. It is not clear what Stone meant by that remark. Jackson’s order had specified that he could view only certain portions, and Stone complained in his email to The Post this week that some parts of the report were withheld from him.
Separately, the Justice Department had also shown varying amounts of the redacted material to congressional leaders, members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees in the House and Senate and a limited number of aides. From mid-June, members of the Judiciary committees, such as Gaetz, were allowed to view some redacted sections in Vol. 2 of Mueller’s report.
Committee members and some aides could review the material in a “secure space” and were “permitted to discuss the report only among themselves,” the Stone prosecutors told Jackson in a court filing. As they negotiated access to the material, committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote then-Attorney General William Barr that the committee had agreed that “they cannot discuss what they have seen with anyone else.”
Speaking backstage at AMPFest, Gaetz discussed the redacted material with Stone.
“We saw the skinny redaction, and there was, you know, there was a lot on you that was in the full redact that came out in the skinny redact,” Gaetz said, before stating that Stone was “not going to have a defense.” He did not elaborate on what he meant by the “skinny redaction.”
A person familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it publicly, said the committee’s agreement not to discuss the redacted material with outsiders was formalized in a written deal with the Justice Department. A Justice official reminded committee members and aides of the conditions when they visited the department’s offices to read the redacted material, the person said. The redacted material was not classified and the agreement was not legally binding, the person said.
The statement from Gaetz’s office said the lawmaker had not violated the confidentiality agreement because he did not disclose “specific content” from the report’s redacted portions. “He did share his perception, which is allowed,” it said.
Asked about the basis for that interpretation, aides to Gaetz merely restated his position.
A House Judiciary spokesman did not respond to requests for comment. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
Stone told Gaetz during the backstage conversation that he was considering asking Trump for clemency in his criminal case.
“I may have to appeal to the big man, because I’ve got . . . it’s the District of Columbia. We surveyed 120 jurors. Ninety of them know who I am, and they hate my guts,” said Stone.
Prospective jurors in Stone’s trial had completed confidential questionnaires that asked for their views on Trump, Stone and others caught up in Mueller’s investigation. Stone’s lawyers agreed to keep the responses confidential, and no details had been disclosed publicly. Questionnaires completed by those selected as jurors were later leaked to right-wing operatives, prompting an FBI investigation. No findings were ever publicly disclosed.
Gaetz agreed that Stone was “f---ed” because of the D.C. jury, but he stressed that Trump viewed Stone favorably and that Stone was unlikely to spend time in prison after a conviction.
“I don’t think you’re going to go down at all at the end of the day,” Gaetz said.
The statement from Gaetz’s office said the conversation “largely reflects sentiments that Congressman Matt Gaetz shared publicly at the time, or sentiments he still holds today.”
It pointed to two news accounts of remarks Gaetz made in 2020, after Stone had been convicted, in which he said Trump should pardon Stone. In neither account did Gaetz say he had talked with Trump about Stone or worked to obtain clemency for Stone.
For months, Trump had openly attacked former allies for testifying against him to investigators, complaining they had “flipped” and were lying to help themselves. In interviews and social media posts, Trump said Stone was “very brave,” had shown “guts” and was “somebody that I’ve always liked.”
Stone has always insisted that he had no incriminating information about Trump to offer Mueller and said publicly there was “no circumstance” under which he would testify against Trump. At AMPFest, Stone said he and Trump had not, in fact, discussed WikiLeaks. He reiterated to Gaetz that he would not “fold” under pressure from Mueller’s team.
“It would have been easy to make this go away, but I couldn’t live with myself,” Stone told Gaetz.
“Well, you’re a bulls--- artist, not a liar,” Gaetz said.
“Correct,” Stone said. “There’s a big difference.”
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Stone and Gaetz spoke bluntly as the congressman awaited his turn onstage. They discussed their mutual dislike of Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. Stone called him “such an a--hole,” and Gaetz said he was “one of my least favorite people I’ve ever had to work with.” Stone mocked the hairstyle and suits worn by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), prompting Gaetz to reply: “Anybody that can land a wife like that needs no advice from me.” Gaetz remarked that his district was so conservative that he effectively never had to campaign for reelection.
In the statement, Gaetz’s office said he stood by those comments.
The pair went on to discuss a photograph of them posing with Joel Greenberg, then the tax collector of Seminole County, Fla. Stone said the photograph had “come back to bite us in the a--.” He did not elaborate. The Orlando Sentinel had reported the previous week that Greenberg had given publicly funded contracts to friends and associates.
“Bite us in the a--?” Gaetz said. “I’m incredibly proud of that.”
Greenberg was arrested the following summer and later agreed to plead guilty to six charges, including trafficking a 17-year-old girl for sex, and to cooperate with federal investigators on further inquiries. Those inquiries included the possibility that Gaetz had paid Greenberg to procure underage girls, The Post and others have reported. A Gaetz spokesman said the congressman never paid for sex and never had sex with a minor.
Toward the end of the October 2019 recording, one of the Danish filmmakers made his way toward Stone with a camera.
The discussion shifted largely to small talk such as a shared dislike of Washington. Gaetz quipped that to escape the capital, he might ask DeSantis to make him head of Florida’s juvenile justice agency, before reflecting that Trump would not permit him to leave.
“He had heard a rumor that I was maybe not gonna run for reelection, and at the Christmas party, he berated me in front of my date. Like, straight berated me,” Gaetz said.
Johnson, the emcee, who had drifted into the conversation, argued it was a “net positive” to be berated by the president in front of a date. “That’s an alpha move,” he said.
Gaetz told The Post in an email, “While I did briefly consider joining the DeSantis administration, I ultimately decided against doing so out of fidelity to serving northwest Floridians in Congress.”
During the October 2019 conversation, talk returned to Stone’s case and to his early morning arrest by the FBI at his Florida home that January. Stone and his supporters had publicly claimed to be outraged that, as a man in his 60s charged with nonviolent crimes, he was roused by heavily armed officers in a dawn raid. Because footage of Stone’s arrest was recorded by a CNN crew waiting outside, Stone alleged that investigators improperly alerted the media before his indictment was unsealed.
“My suspect for who tipped the media off on that is you. You were my first suspect,” Gaetz told Stone backstage at AMPFest.
“Come on, Roger, it was you,” added Johnson.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” said Stone.