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LOS ANGELES, Dec 1 — A little over a year ago, shockwaves spread across the globe as it became apparent that unlikely presidential candidate Donald Trump had pulled off the greatest political upset in history.
But one man wasn’t surprised at all: The newest world leader’s long-time friend and confidante, Washington political fixer Roger Stone.
The 65-year-old master manipulator is the subject of Get Me Roger Stone, a Netflix documentary tracing his seismic effect on modern politics that has just kicked off its Oscars campaign with screenings in Los Angeles.
“He’s not just this single-minded guy but this Machiavellian, almost crazy guy who shows up at every key moment in recent American history,” legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin tells filmmakers Daniel DiMauro, Morgan Pehme and Dylan Bank.
Drawing on extensive interviews with the man himself and the major events of his controversial career, Get Me Roger Stone is the culmination of thousands of hours of filming, and decades of Republican backroom politics.
The thesis is straightforward: That Stone’s practice of political “dark arts” over the last 50 years has been a major contributor to the so-called “swamp” of corruption that Trump has vowed to drain.
“He’s anti-establishment but he’s also part of the establishment. He is a human being, he’s just not a very good one,” DiMauro said at a screening in Hollywood this week.
After five years following Stone, the filmmakers went from a less-than-sensational story on a “washed-up dirty trickster”, says DiMauro, to “the most important story in the world — a timeline to the rise of Trump”.
‘Pot-smoking, swinging dandy’
Stone spoke with the filmmakers right up to the month after the reality TV star and property tycoon’s shock election victory, an event the consultant describes as “the manifestation of a dream I’ve had since 1988”.
The flamboyantly-dressed tactician for a long series of Republican political campaigns is described by Pehme as a “body-building, pot-smoking, swinging dandy.”
Stone began his career as a political trickster for Richard Nixon, whose face he has tattooed on his back, and, at the age of 19, was the youngest person to testify to the Watergate grand jury.
A prized source to this day for the country’s top political reporters, he has been placed at the scene of the crime in some of the most unsavoury moments in American public life.
He is seen in the movie shrugging off his role in lobbying on behalf of despots and human rights abusers like reviled Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, claiming he is proud of the money he made.
He takes all or partial credit for the rise of negative campaigning and political action committees, not to mention the Miami-Dade riot that disrupted the Florida election recount in 2000.
He is also widely thought to be behind the downfall of the Reform Party via an organised smear campaign against its 2000 presidential candidate Pat Buchanan by one Donald J. Trump.
“That’s the game he plays, how he makes himself relevant. I still get Google alerts from ‘Roger Stone’ and they’ll pop up every day because of something he has said that spins into a story,” DiMauro told AFP.
“He understands the dark heart of the media better than they understand it themselves sometimes. He throws the line out there and they always bite on it.”
‘Despicable human being’
Fired from Bob Dole’s campaign in 1996 for advertising in swingers magazines for sexual partners, Stone’s private life hasn’t exactly been the epitome of restraint either.
The disarmingly socially-liberal advocate for gay marriage and marijuana legalisation first spotted Trump as a potential president in 1987 and badgered him in the ensuing years to run for office.
“Roger’s relationship with Donald Trump has been so interconnected that it’s hard to define what’s Roger and what’s Donald,” Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort tells the filmmakers.
Manafort faces unrelated charges as part of a federal probe into the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia, and it’s tempting to think Stone must be worried about the prosecuting special counsel knocking on his door.
Pehme, however, says the fixer “does not express any fears” about the probe, which is thought to be looking, among other things, into any contacts Stone may have had with Russian operatives.
He has always seemed “very judicious” in stopping short of illegality, Pehme says, although he makes clear that the filmmakers see themselves neither as Stone’s prosecutors nor his apologists.
“Roger is absolutely a despicable human being, and the fact that he is so unabashed in being despicable is so much worse than any condemnation that I could give,” says Pehme.
“I hope that it’s clear that Roger is immoral from watching this film.”
Get Me Roger Stone is available on Netflix. — AFP