Few people in politics have known Donald Trump for as long as Roger Stone.
The controversial Republican consultant has advised Trump off and on since they met in 1979, and he was a close but informal confidant for much of the epic presidential campaign. Stone’s book about the race, The Making of the President 2016, was released this week.
He talked to TIME by phone about the start of Trump’s term, the President’s war on the press, and why he thinks the intelligence community may have poisoned him. Here are excerpts from that conversation, condensed and lightly edited:
What has struck you most about Trump’s first days in office?
He has already made historic moves to reverse the policies of his predecessor. He may be the first person in history to be overruled by a federal judge only six days after he took office. He has proven that he’s going to be an activist. He’s not just going to sit there and field what the Establishment pitches him. He is not going to stop being combative with those he thinks are criticizing him unfairly in the media. He is not going to stop using the bully pulpit of his Twitter feed. And he is not going to be isolated by his handlers. As long as he’s continuing to set the agenda and crank out directives and take action on specific issues, I think the American people will cut him a wide swath on everything else.
Has he made any mistakes in your view?
It’s his nature. His nature is not going to change. It’s not surprising to me that he’s feisty and combative and he’s not taking any crap. That’s Trump. So I’m not going to characterize them as mistakes. They just are. This is not a guy who is handled or coached or scripted or controlled. And he is not relying on a phalanx of aides to advise him, because frankly his instincts on public relations and the news cycle and where the American people are have proven to be very good.
What’s the motive of the war on the press that the White House has launched?
Look, this is a page out of the Nixon playbook. The people who voted for Trump resent the press. They no longer trust the press. This election was the tipping point in which the monopoly of the mainstream media was broken. It’s now coming from a more diverse series of news sources, and a consumer can decide they like Breitbart News and they get more objective news there than they get at CBS. In a weird way, CNN becoming so hysterical in their attacks on Trump just further fuels this narrative. It’s the politics of appealing to the base.
It didn’t end well for Nixon. Why will it end better for Trump?
It could have ended well. Nixon got re-elected carrying 49 states despite the fact that most of the media despised him. I do think it worked out well in terms of polarizing the nation. It’s the politics of polarization. He’s speaking to the people who elected him.
You note in your book that Nixon was among the first people to encourage Trump to run for President. You’ve worked for both of them. In what ways are they similar?
They’re both pragmatists. They’re really not ideologues. Trump is kind of a populist conservative; Nixon took populist conservative positions. They’ve both interested what works and in getting things done.
When you stepped away from the campaign last year, you expressed concern about some of the same combative instincts we’re seeing now.
Trump is going to be Trump. As long as he’s focused on the big picture stuff, I think he’s got some license. The fact that there are demonstrations about his policies, I don’t think that’s hurting him. Not in the slightest. Those are the same people that didn’t vote for him. I think his voters are happy with the progress.
The New York Times has reported that you’re among a couple of Trump associates under federal investigation for alleged ties to Russia. Is there any truth to those reports? Have you been contacted by anyone in the intelligence community?
I have not been contacted by anybody in law enforcement. There is absolutely no foundation to this whatsoever. The intelligence community could not have found email transmissions or financial transactions involving me and the Russians and the Trump campaign because there are none. I have no Russian clients. I have no Russian contacts, I have no Russian money. I have no Russian influences. I do like Russian vodka. This thing is a canard. The intelligence community has yet to produce any proof. Were the Russians hacking us? Maybe. But did they affect the election in any way? No.
One of the things people are pointing to is you said during a speech in Florida last August that you have communicated with Assange. And you predicted the document dump. What’s your connection with Wikileaks?
It’s very simple. As I explain in the book, I have a mutual friend who knows Assange, who’s a journalist and was in London and communicated with him. When he came back, he told me that Assange has devastating political dynamite on Hillary Clinton and he’s going to begin releasing it. I asked when. He said as soon as this Wednesday. So I posted that. That Wednesday, Assange had a press thing where he announced they would have disclosures for the next 10 weeks. Which he has. So everything I said was true. I didn’t know the specifics. I welcome any objective and real investigation. There’s literally nothing to find.
You’ve claimed you may have been poisoned. Are you feeling better?
I am feeling better. I became very ill before Christmas. I got progressively worse. For almost 17 days in a row, I had a fever of over 100. I went to the hospital. They conducted blood tests. They were baffled. Blood tests went to the CDC. They found an exogenous substance in my blood that had the characteristics of polonium.
I’m sorry to hear. You said you thought you’d been poisoned in connection with the Russian hacking investigation. Do you have any evidence?
No. I’ll never figure out who tried to poison me. Let’s face it: there would be too many suspects. But the Senate Intelligence Committee was going to have hearings. I could see why some people might not want me to do so. You know, you bump off Stone, make it look like the Russians did it: “Wow, the Russians killed their agent because he was going to spill his guts in Congress.” Just a theory. The Deep State moves in strange ways.