Roger Stone vs. the world: Inside the conspiracy-filled mind of legendary GOP trickster

Longtime Republican blackhat tells Salon who he thinks really killed JFK -- and shares his theories about 2016

Published January 28, 2015 1:30PM (EST)

Roger Stone         (YouTube/Larry King)
Roger Stone (YouTube/Larry King)

When the definitive history of postwar American politics is written, there will be a chapter exclusively devoted to “ratfucking,” which was the delicate term of art that members of Richard Nixon’s goon squad would use to describe the countless (and frequently illegal) acts of subterfuge and sabotage they engaged in on their president’s behalf. And when that chapter is written, a sizable chunk will be devoted to one Roger Stone, a longtime GOP operative whose number of dirty tricks is nearly as large as the amount of ink spilled by journalists over the years attempting to catalog them. (And we’re not even mentioning his brief association with none other than the Rev. Al Sharpton...)

But as much as Stone is indelibly associated with some of the most storied American political figures in recent U.S. history, he’s still throwing punches in the here and now. They just happen to often be directed toward enemies from his past. So when the movie “Selma” kicked off a round or two of passionate debate over President Lyndon Johnson’s feelings about Martin Luther King and the broader civil rights movement, we figured Stone, who recently authored the unapologetically conspiratorial “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ,” would have a take. As you’ll see below, he most certainly did.

Along with conspiracy theories involving JFK, LBJ, MLK, RFK, the celebrated popular historian Robert Caro and Benghazi, our phone conversation also touched on Stone’s predictions for the GOP’s nominee in 2016 and his views on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom he believes to have been involved in more than a few conspiracies of her own. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.

Let’s start off with LBJ. Judging by your new book’s title, I’m guessing you’re not much of a fan?

In 1964, when I was a preteen volunteer in the Goldwater campaign, I read a book called "A Texan Looks at Lyndon" by J. Evetts Haley, which is one of the earliest books that outlined the incredible corruption and amorality and duplicitousness of Lyndon Johnson. That book stuck with me for a long time. Having the opportunity to work for a couple of American presidents and to talk to President Nixon, specifically, about his contemporary LBJ, and to read some of the literature that was out there … it became very clear that the taxpayer-financed Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and a coterie of former Johnson aides were really trying to whitewash the truth about Lyndon Johnson.

He was a crude, corrupt, sadistic, unprincipled psychopath. This is a man who I believe ordered at least 17 murders on his way to power, murders to cover up corruption or voter theft. I make a compelling case in my book — using fingerprint evidence, eyewitness evidence, and deep [research into] Texas politics — that Lyndon Johnson was the linchpin of the conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He has the motive, means and opportunity. So it reads like a murder mystery, it reads like a thriller novel, but unfortunately it's the truth.

OK, so what’s the case against LBJ, as you see it?

First of all, Johnson blackmailed his way onto the 1960 ticket with John Kennedy. Sen. Kennedy had already offered the vice presidency to Sen. Stuart Symington of Missouri, who had accepted. Lyndon Johnson and Sam Rayburn visited Kennedy's hotel room in Los Angeles late at night and they showed him a dossier of pictures of JFK in compromising positions with various women, courtesy of Johnson's next-door neighbor and longtime political ally J. Edgar Hoover.

Ironically, if Kennedy hadn't put Johnson on the ticket he probably wouldn't have been elected, because Johnson stole enough votes in Texas to tip that state to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. There's a substantial documentation of that voter fraud in the book, and when you combine that with the voter theft in the city of Chicago Kennedy becomes the winner.

Johnson's right-hand man, Secretary of the U.S. Senate Bobby Baker, says on Inaugural Day 1961, a very cold day, that John Kennedy will not live out his term and he will die a violent death. Johnson's motives are very clear. Not only was he being dumped from the ticket in 1964— indeed, Evelyn Lincoln, President Kennedy's personal secretary, says in her memoir he told her on the eve of leaving for Dallas that he was dumping Johnson— but Johnson was under investigation in two enormous scandals: the Bobby Baker scandal, Bobby Baker the Senate secretary was splitting bribes with Johnson, but more importantly, the Billie Sol Estes scandal.

Sol Estes was a flamboyant Texas wheeler-dealer and he and Johnson were involved in corrupt practices including federal contracts. Robert Caro wrote a four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson but if you check the index there's no mention of Sol Estes, he's missing. I went and checked and in terms of coverage the Billie Sol Estes got twice the coverage at the time than the Baker scandal did, but it's been airbrushed out of history by Caro. Why? I'll tell you why: because Sol Estes, after he comes out of prison, has nothing to gain and informs the Justice Department of Johnson's involvement in the death of John F. Kennedy. Therefore, I presume, if Caro introduced the character he would have to tell the whole story, so it's better just to airbrush Billie Sol out of the picture.

Caro lies by omission; he should be stripped of his Pulitzer. He is intellectually dishonest, but he's more interested in going to the right Upper East Side cocktail party than he is in historical truth.

Now, you weighed in recently on the debate over the movie “Selma,” and whether it is fair in its depiction of Johnson and his level of support for the civil rights movement. What’s your interpretation of that history?

About 15 years ago, maybe a little more, the History Channel bought a documentary that was produced by the BBC, called "A Man Who Killed Kennedy" by Nigel Turner. It has an enormous amount of first-person video interviews with people who were intimately involved, at some level, in the Kennedy assassination. The Johnson defenders pressured the History Channel to drop the series and it never aired in the United States. I think that's what you call censorship. In other words, let the people see the documentary and decide whether they believe it or not.

That's how I feel about my book. You don't have to believe my book but at least let people read it and make up their own minds. This is exactly what we see in the case of “Selma.” Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey have made a historically accurate movie. Lyndon Johnson was a lifelong segregationist. He mooted the 1957 Civil Rights Act by dropping in an amendment that was a poison pill, which held that anyone charged under the law would be tried before a state — not federal — jury, meaning an all-white jury. Johnson stripped the voting rights section out of the 1964 act, although I would argue that after Kennedy's murder he had the greatest influence with Congress and could have passed the entire bill.

The idea that Johnson was behind the Selma march, that the Selma march was his idea, is just patently false. It's not true. They take one patronizing phone call between Johnson and King and they try to extrapolate into Johnson being a great advocate of civil rights. Well, as he said to the Air Force steward, as recorded in Ryan Kessler's book, "I'll have them n-ggers votin' Democratic for 200 years." His motives were not moral, they were not just, they were just politics.

Well, to focus on one of the criticisms of the film in particular, what do you say to those who argue that the wiretaps of MLK were signed off on by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, not LBJ?

It is accurate that RFK signed off on the wiretap on Oct. 10, 1963. His brother would only be president for approximately one month longer. The wiretaps were not taken off by President Johnson; they were left in place and the bugging of his hotel rooms happened after Kennedy's death, when Johnson was president. This idea that we push all these excesses off on J. Edgar Hoover...

Hoover? You mean Johnson's next-door neighbor? The Johnson daughters called him “Uncle Edgar” because he spent so much time in the Johnson home. In 1948, when Johnson stole his first election, he was a freshman senator. Who would fly down to his victory party in Dallas but FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover? Pushing this off on Kennedy and Hoover is disingenuous. As soon as Johnson was president, he didn't terminate the wiretaps on King, he left them in place. More importantly, the murder of King happens while Lyndon Johnson is president and, of course, we find that the various intelligence agencies were up to their necks in that murder.

It's a little complicated but I'll explain why I think Robert Kennedy agreed to the wiretaps: Hoover wanted to wiretap King. He had an obsession with Dr. King and believed he was a Communist. In October of 1963, Robert Kennedy was concerned about his brother Jack Kennedy's liaison with Ellen Rometsch, who was believed to be an East German spy but whose sexual assignation with Kennedy was arranged by Bobby Baker. There was a terrific piece by Todd Purdum in Politico roughly a year ago that outlined this very succinctly. Consequently, Robert Kennedy needed Hoover's help to get Rometsch out of the country, and that was precisely the time at which Robert Kennedy signed off on the King wiretap.

If I could turn to today’s politics for a bit: We recently saw the House GOP caucus vote to reelect John Boehner as speaker. If you were in Congress, would you have voted for or against another two years of Speaker Boehner?

I probably would not have voted for him to be speaker, largely because I'm unhappy about what I believe is the Benghazi coverup. I question whether the chairman of the Senate and House Intelligence Committee, as well as the ranking members, were cross-pressured to drop the Benghazi inquiry. I don't think we've been told everything. The published Senate Committee report in itself is stunning in terms of the lapses of judgment and the prevarications of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy establishment.

I probably would not have voted for Boehner just on that narrow basis, but for the Republican Party to have any prospect of retaking the White House, they need to figure out how to select a nominee who has the ability to keep all factions of the party on board. You can't win with just the Tea Party and you can't win without the Tea Party; you can't win with just the party regulars and you can't win without the party regulars.

Nixon, in his epic 1968 comeback, understood he needed both wings of the Republican Party; he needed Nelson Rockefeller and Jacob Javits but he also needed Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater and John Tower. You find yourself in the same dilemma [if you’re a Republican running for president in 2016]. The Republicans have to figure out how to nominate a candidate who everybody in the party can get behind, and that may be easier said than done.

Is there anyone out there right now that you think could do what Nixon and Reagan did and unite the party’s various factions?

The party either needs to nominate an outsider like Donald Trump — a businessman, someone who's not beholden to any particular wing — or they need to go to someone like Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, who is battle-tested and who has not only won an election but beat back a recall and an attempt to take away the state Senate and then got reelected in a tough state for Republicans. I think those are potentially among your stronger candidates.

Jeb Bush makes half the people in the party walk out; Chris Christie makes half the people in the party walk out; Rand Paul, many of whose ideas I like because I'm a Goldwater Republican ... there are a lot of Republicans who would walk out if he was the nominee. You have to choose a nominee who can keep everybody on board, and I think to do that the party may have to think outside the box.

And I’m assuming we both believe Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee?

That assumes she runs. In all honesty, I think the brewing [Jeffrey] Epstein scandal is potentially extremely problematic. What exactly Bill Clinton was doing with the pedophile Epstein is going to become front and center here, perhaps in the news and perhaps in the courts. I also think the Bill Cosby scandal is bad news for the Clintons because now there will be a reexamination of the various women that I believe Bill Clinton sexually assaulted; I wrote a piece on this for the Daily Caller a week ago.

Yes, if she runs she's certainly the odds-on favorite but I really see that as a very vulnerable candidacy. She has nothing whatsoever to say in terms of a compelling message other than "it's my turn" and if she wants to make the raison d'être of her candidacy that she will be the first woman president... Hillary, just to be clear: you personally directed the terror campaign to silence Bill's various victims. You hired the nasty Los Angeles private detectives Palladino and Pelicano. You are the one who arranged the threats against Juanita Broderick and others. No, Hillary Clinton has psychologically raped women on her way to power and therefore I think that rationale is very dangerous for her.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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