How 2 Conspiracy Theorists Shaped Trump's Worldview (And Why They Matter To Mueller) "If there was contact between the Trump campaign, or even Trump himself, and WikiLeaks, it went through [Jerome] Corsi and [Roger] Stone," says New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin.
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How 2 Conspiracy Theorists Shaped Trump's Worldview (And Why They Matter To Mueller)

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How 2 Conspiracy Theorists Shaped Trump's Worldview (And Why They Matter To Mueller)

How 2 Conspiracy Theorists Shaped Trump's Worldview (And Why They Matter To Mueller)

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Two of the people under investigation by Robert Mueller - Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi - are conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state is trying to take over America. Stone is a self-described dirty trickster from the Nixon era, who also co-founded a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort in the 1980s and has been close to Donald Trump for more than 30 years. Corsi is one of the fathers of birtherism and the swift boat campaign that tried to discredit John Kerry during his presidential run by accusing him of lying about his record in Vietnam.

My guest Jeffrey Toobin covers legal affairs for The New Yorker. His new article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel." He writes that Stone and Corsi came together to support Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. The Mueller investigators have questioned both men about their contacts with WikiLeaks and their possible involvement in the release of emails stolen from the chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign, John Podesta. Stone has been indicted by prosecutors for witness tampering, obstruction and five counts of lying. Mueller's team has questioned Corsi. But as of yet, he's not been indicted.

There are now indications that Mueller will turn his report to the new Attorney General William Barr as early as next week. Toobin says if this happens, Roger Stone's case would be formally turned over to the U.S. attorney general in Washington, D.C., who will then try the case. As we go to broadcast, Roger Stone faces a hearing later today regarding whether he broke the terms of his bail this week.

Jeffrey Toobin, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Hi, Terry.

GROSS: Let's start with what we learned from last Friday's new court filing from the prosecutors in the special counsel investigation that showed for the first time that they have evidence that Roger Stone had communicated with WikiLeaks and also with Russian intelligence. So sum up for us what we learned.

TOOBIN: Well, you have to remember why this all matters. And the reason it matters is that WikiLeaks was one of the ways the Russian government, Russian interests, tried to manipulate the 2016 campaign. And one of the big issues that's been under investigation over the past two years is whether anyone connected to the Trump campaign, including Roger Stone, was involved with, connected to, knowledgeable about the WikiLeaks operation.

And what the filing on Friday appeared to say was that there were connections between WikiLeaks and Roger Stone that he had not previously acknowledged. And that would be an important development in the investigation.

GROSS: So does this new filing indicate that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?

TOOBIN: Well, it certainly suggests that there might be some there. If there were proof that Stone, in some way, encouraged or participated with or assisted WikiLeaks in getting out these very damaging, hacked emails, first - mostly of the - John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chair. If he had any role in that, that would be a major development in proving collusion. But I don't want to suggest that this one filing was definite proof.

GROSS: So your article is about Roger Stone and about Jerome Corsi. Tell us what Corsi's role has been in the WikiLeaks story so far, like, to our knowledge.

TOOBIN: Well, let me just tell you who Jerome Corsi is. You know, Jerome Corsi is a kind of semi-failed academic, semi-failed semi-successful businessman, who, in middle age, discovered this talent for writing right-wing, bestselling books, including books about claiming that President Obama was not born in the United States, John Kerry's issues with the swift boat Vietnam experience. And through those connections, he met up with Roger Stone. And together, they decided that they would try to find out what was going on with WikiLeaks in the summer of 2016.

Earlier in the summer, in July, right on the eve of the Democratic convention, WikiLeaks had made its first big splash by disclosing emails that had been hacked from the Democratic National Committee. They seemed to show that the DNC was helping Hillary Clinton at the expense of Bernie Sanders. It created a lot of tumult at the Democratic convention, some leadership changes. And Roger Stone and Corsi wanted to see more disclosures like that and sow more chaos in the Democratic camp. And Stone and Corsi worked together to do that.

GROSS: In your article, you write that Roger Stone helped define Donald Trump's obsessions and Jerome Corsi justify them. So let's start with Stone. What obsessions did Stone help Trump define?

TOOBIN: Well, I think at this late date, Roger Stone can qualify as a legendary figure in American politics. He's been around for so long and has touched so many different campaigns, scandals, outrages that he really is kind of a legendary figure. He first came to public notice in 1972, when, as a young man, he was working on Richard Nixon's campaign, assisted in some of the minor, dirty tricks - particularly in New Hampshire - that would, ultimately, be part of the Watergate scandal.

He later hooked up with the Reagan campaign and then organized and participated in one of the most notorious lobbying firms of the 1980s - Black, Manafort and Stone - Manafort being Paul Manafort, who also figures in this story, of course. Later on, he participated in the so-called Brooks Brothers riot, which helped shut down the 2000 recount in Miami-Dade County, Fla. And even later on, he claims, he was involved in bringing to light Eliot Spitzer's connections to prostitutes, which brought down his governorship of New York in 2008.

So those are the kinds of things that Stone has been involved in. And, perhaps, most significantly, starting in the 1980s - really, at the beginning of Donald Trump's public fame - he was a believer in Donald Trump as a political figure. In 1987, he went to New Hampshire with Trump in kind of a testing the waters presidential campaign. And in virtually every cycle from '88 to 2016, Stone encouraged Trump to run. Finally, of course, he did run in 2016. And that's how he was involved in this particular effort.

GROSS: But in terms of Trump's obsessions, one of Stone's obsessions is the deep state. And that's one of Trump's obsessions, too.

TOOBIN: Correct. The deep state - and I think, you know, a seminal figure in both of their lives - in fact, the person who introduced Stone and Trump was Roy Cohn, the notorious New York lawyer who had been counsel to Joseph McCarthy in the '50s and, later, a big-time mob lawyer in New York and someone who was always involved in really sinister activities in New York - you know, working with the mob and just someone who was the ultimate cynic about the way American politics and the American legal system worked.

And one of Cohn's obsessions, which, I think, went from Cohn to Stone and Trump, was what later came to be called the deep state - the establishment, the insiders, the people who sort of control things from behind the scenes. Sometimes, it was defined as Dwight Eisenhower did, as the military industrial complex. Sometimes, it was, like, the permanent bureaucracy in Washington. It's difficult to define because I'm - I think it's not at all clear that it even exists.

But this idea that there were these groups of insiders who pulled the strings in American politics is something that, really, has defined Stone's world view. And, I think, if you listen to how Trump talks about the Mueller investigation and a lot of his presidency, it's something that has passed on to the president as well.

GROSS: And Jerome Corsi is deep into the deep state as well. And you include a quote from one of Corsi's recent books about the deep state. And he says, the U.S., under the deep state masters, has begun to descend into a political hell that I previously thought could only happen under Hitler's Gestapo, Stalin's KGB or Mao's Cultural Revolution.

TOOBIN: As you can tell, Corsi has a gift for understatement.

(LAUGHTER)

GROSS: Thank you for pointing that out.

TOOBIN: Yeah. And I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you...

GROSS: No, I'm trying to capture that a little bit in my reading (laughter).

TOOBIN: Yeah.

GROSS: My - and he goes on to say, my particular Kafka-esque nightmare is nothing more than punishment for the crime of being a vocal supporter of Donald Trump and for having worked with Roger Stone to promote Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. I am with God. Are you? So, I mean, he's saying, basically, that the deep state is trying to punish him just for being a Trump supporter.

TOOBIN: Oh, absolutely. And the president is saying that the deep state is after him. And I think you can see that both explicitly. I think the president has talked about the deep state. But also, the way he talks about the leadership of the FBI and the leadership of Congress and, certainly, the news media - you know, people who remain in Washington from president to president. Trump and certainly, Corsi, regards them as this independent power bloc that is arrayed against Donald Trump and is fighting him at every step.

Corsi seems to think it's also out to incarcerate him. And of course, the Mueller investigation is part of it. But this idea - and I think it is quite apt to call it a conspiracy theory - that there is this shadowy, informal but real organization called the deep state is core to both Corsi and Stone's world view, and I think - you know, I think Donald Trump's, as well.

GROSS: And Stone has his own conspiracy theory about the Mueller investigation, which he told you. Would you share that with us?

TOOBIN: Well, he has many conspiracy theories. You know, it's always hard to tell with Roger when he's pulling your leg and when he actually believes what he's saying. But what one theory he posited to me was that the goal of the Mueller investigation was to remove Donald Trump from office, remove Mike Pence from office, to have Nancy Pelosi, you know, third in line for the presidency, to come in and be president and then appoint Hillary Clinton as her vice president.

I (laughter) don't - you know, I think Roger, too, has a gift for understatement, as you can tell. And so I don't know if he believes that literally, but he certainly thinks that the deep state is out to get President Trump. And in that respect, he and Corsi see things exactly the same way.

GROSS: Well, there's plenty more here to talk about. But at this point, we have to take a short break. So let me reintroduce you. My guest is Jeffrey Toobin, who writes about legal affairs for The New Yorker and is CNN's chief legal correspondent. His latest New Yorker article is titled, "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel: Why The Mismatched Operatives Matter To Trump And To The Mueller Investigation." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal correspondent who also covers legal affairs for The New Yorker. His latest New Yorker article is about Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone, two conspiracy theorists and political operatives who became part of Trump's orbit. They're being investigated by Robert Mueller for their involvement in the WikiLeaks release of emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails were stolen by Russians who hacked into accounts of the Democratic National Committee and of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair.

Now, Stone has prided himself on being, like, a dirty trickster, say, during the Nixon era. But with Corsi, my impression with Corsi is his modus operandi has always been through writing books about his conspiracy theories. So he wrote a book about John Kerry. This was his "Swift Boat" book, basically saying Kerry just lied about getting Purple Hearts in Vietnam, Kerry lied about his courageous actions in Vietnam and other people on Swift Boats know that Kerry lied about it. With Obama, of course, he wrote a book whose title kind of says it all, "Where's The Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Be President." He hates the Clintons.

But his mode of dealing with this has been to write things. But my impression is that with WikiLeaks and with the Trump campaign that he crossed over, perhaps, into actually taking actions

TOOBIN: Right. And that's what is so unusual, frankly, and a little bit comical about what went on. Because Stone and Corsi, even though their politics are similar, their personalities and their demeanor are so entirely different. You know, Roger is someone who really enjoys being thought of as a scoundrel, and an outsider and a dirty trickster, as you say.

And Corsi, who is a Harvard Ph.D., is someone who sort of fancies himself almost academic in his interest and, as you say, has written quite a few books and, you know, has this sort of scholarly air about him. The fact that they wound up together, at least, temporarily on this project, is something I found sort of comical. Although, they are now, as I'm sure we'll discuss, are estranged from one another.

GROSS: And when you say this project, you mean both the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks.

TOOBIN: Both. Yes.

GROSS: Yeah. So one of the things Corsi did - and I suppose you could say this was research for one of his books, but - he traveled to Kenya with Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was a Trump ally. And Trump recently pardoned Arpaio. So they went to Kenya to get evidence that, you know, Obama was really born there and that he's therefore - you know, he lied about his birth certificate, and he's not eligible to be president. So it's just interesting how all these people align. You know, that Joe Arpaio is part of the Corsi story.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I mean, this is sort of the fever swamp of the "alt-right." You know, for whom, you know, Breitbart is like The London Times in comparison. I mean, this is really some disgraceful stuff, notwithstanding the fact that Corsi's books have lots of footnotes. It is no exaggeration to say these books are full of absolute falsehoods. And, you know, he got put on the map, or he put himself on the map, with the "Swift Boat" book that he wrote with John O'Neill in 2004. This book was a huge hit.

I think it's safe to say that the Kerry campaign never figured out how to deal with this outright false accusation that Kerry was not the war hero that everyone understood him to be. And once that book wound up being such a success, he started writing them at an enormously productive pace, and at each one tries to capture the right-wing obsession of the moment, whether it's the birther story or now the deep state.

GROSS: How did Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone first connect with each other?

TOOBIN: Well, given that they are both conspiracy theorists, it's probably not surprising is that what brought them together is sort of the biggest conspiracy theory of all, which is the Kennedy assassination. That in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, both of them wrote books about it. Stone co-wrote a book. Corsi wrote a book himself. And they were characteristic of their personalities, those books. Stone's book categorically said that Lyndon Johnson orchestrated the whole thing, which of course is absurd.

GROSS: That Lyndon Johnson orchestrated the assassination of JFK?

TOOBIN: Correct - so that he could become president himself. Corsi's book is more vague and says - well, there was a conspiracy of what he would later call the deep state - the CIA, the Mafia, you know, all sorts of bad people - to assassinate John F. Kennedy. But Corsi doesn't come out and say who was in - who actually ordered the assassination. But in 2013, they both wrote this book, and they started corresponding with each other and ultimately became friends and met for the first time in the spring of 2016.

GROSS: What made them decide they should work together on behalf of Donald Trump's campaign?

TOOBIN: Well, it was their support for Donald Trump's campaign and the fact that - specifically, you know, they had been talking through the spring. But then in July, these - the first tranche of WikiLeaks emails came out. And Julian Assange had said several times in the lead-up to this disclosure that this is only the beginning, that there would be more disclosures.

And Corsi and Stone decided to work together to find out what Assange - Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and, you know, the WikiLeaks organization - had, what other emails or stolen material they had, and to see that it got into public view before November so it would help Donald Trump get elected.

GROSS: So Stone had already known Trump. He met Trump in the '80s. Did Corsi already know Trump?

TOOBIN: He did - not as well, but he definitely knew him. They had met years earlier when Corsi was a frequent guest at the Plaza Hotel in New York, which Trump owned for a time. But they really got to know each other in the birther movement that - when Donald Trump was crusading, leading up to President Obama's re-election, on the issue of the racist lie that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Corsi was - you should pardon the expression - kind of the brains behind the operation. You know, he had this big book he had written. And they spoke almost half a dozen times about this effort. As you mentioned earlier, Corsi had worked with Joseph Arpaio, the sheriff outside - in Phoenix. So that's how they got to know each other. And - so both of them, both Stone and Corsi, had a personal connection to Trump that motivated them even more than their general political inclinations to try to help him get elected in 2016.

GROSS: My guest is Jeffrey Toobin, a New Yorker staff writer who covers legal affairs. His new article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel." Toobin is also CNN's chief legal correspondent. After a break, one of the things we'll talk about is what Toobin thinks might be the most bizarre part of Stone's upcoming trial. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HUNTER'S "LATIN FOR TRAVELERS")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Jeffrey Toobin, who covers legal affairs for The New Yorker. His latest article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel." Stone and Corsi are conspiracy theorists who believe the deep state is trying to take over America. Toobin writes that Stone and Corsi came together to support Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Robert Mueller's team has been investigating their contacts with WikiLeaks and their possible involvement in the release of hacked emails stolen from the chair of Hillary Clinton's campaign, John Podesta. Stone has been indicted by prosecutors for witness tampering, obstruction and five counts of lying. Toobin says that after WikiLeaks released hacked emails from the National Democratic Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign and Julian Assange indicated there were more hacked emails to come, Stone and Corsi worked together to find out what else Assange had.

So one of the things Roger Stone tries to do is to persuade Jerome Corsi - and this is in July of 2016, during the campaign - to go to Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where Assange was taking refuge, and get the pending WikiLeaks emails, the second batch that Assange said he would release. So tell us more about what Stone wanted Corsi to do and whether Corsi actually did it.

TOOBIN: Well, the question of course was, how do you find out what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks knows? And one approach would be, go ask Julian Assange. And Julian Assange has been famously holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for several years. And so Stone said to Corsi, use whatever connections you have in London to try to find out what he knew.

And Corsi reached out to this British-American writer - this American writer who lives in Great Britain - with the resonant name of Theodore Roosevelt Malloch - Ted Malloch - and said, you know, what can you do to find out what Assange has? Well, Malloch couldn't find out anything, so he struck out in that regard. And they, you know, continued conspiring, if that's the right word, by email and text - that is, Stone and Corsi - about what else they could do.

GROSS: And what do you know about some of those emails?

TOOBIN: Well, the most celebrated tweet, or most notorious tweet, of the 2016 campaign comes from Stone on August 21st when he tweets - and I'm paraphrasing - soon it will be Podesta's time in the barrel. And why this is significant is that a few weeks later, in the beginning of October, in fact, Wikileaks does release thousands of emails from John Podesta's account.

And so the question becomes - and really, one of the key questions of the entire Mueller investigation is - did Roger Stone have some sort of inside information from WikiLeaks that led him to make this extraordinarily accurate prediction that it would be Podesta's time in the barrel and it would be Podesta's whose emails were leaked out next?

GROSS: Of course, he predicts that, too. Corsi emailed Stone - I think it was also that same day - August 21st - and said, word is friend in embassy plans two more dumps. Impact planned to be very damaging. And the friend in embassy would be Julian Assange, and the dumps would be WikiLeaks' email dumps.

TOOBIN: And that's right. So this core question that they are - you know, there's a lot of funny things about Corsi and Stone, who are sort of semi-ridiculous figures. But it is a very serious question about whether they were involved in this crime of hacking, and they were knowledgeable about - instrumental in instigating and encouraging this extremely damaging release of emails. And of course, the question that they have both been asked, including by me, is, how did you know so many weeks in advance that Podesta's emails were going to be released? And they both have different, highly problematic answers to that question.

GROSS: What are their answers?

TOOBIN: Well, as for Stone, he says, when I say it was Podesta's time in the barrel, I was actually talking about John and Tony Podesta, his brother, who was a big-time lobbyist. And what I meant by time in the barrel was they were going to be criticized in the press the way Paul Manafort was being criticized in the press at that point that - you know, at that point, Manafort, in mid-August - who was then Trump's campaign chairman - he was getting a lot of heat about his work for Ukrainian interests allied with Russia, vaguely insinuating corruption on that part.

So Stone's tweet, according to Stone, was really about public revelations of misdeeds by the two Podesta brothers, not about the pending release of John Podesta's emails. That's a problematic explanation. It's rather tortured. It doesn't make a lot of sense since John Podesta's never been accused of any sort of corruption at all, but that's his explanation.

Corsi has an even more bizarre explanation for how he knew that John Podesta's emails were going to be released. He says that he did an analysis of the emails that had been released from earlier in the summer - the Democratic National Committee emails. He saw whose names had been released, and he figured out solely by the strength of his own logic and intuition that it had to be Podesta's emails coming out next. Now, frankly, that makes really no sense at all because the Podesta emails weren't even from the Democratic National Committee. He worked at the Clinton campaign, which is a completely different entity. And there is simply no way the application of logic can get you to the conclusion that John Podesta's emails were going to be released.

However, it should be stated that neither I nor any government authority, at least so far, has presented proof that Stone and Corsi did receive advance notice from WikiLeaks. That remains one of the great mysteries of the Mueller investigation about whether there is any smoking gun, any sort of email, text, electronic message that ties Corsi and Stone to WikiLeaks regarding advance notice of the October release of John Podesta's emails.

GROSS: Corsi and Stone have had a falling out. What is it about?

TOOBIN: Well, to know their personalities is to know that there is certainly going to be a falling out at some point because they are both very combustible personalities. Basically, what happened was, as they both tried to explain this email traffic, Corsi said that Stone tried to persuade him - that is, persuade Corsi - to create a cover story, a false explanation for how Corsi and Stone knew about the coming release of the Podesta emails. Stone says, no, I never told him to create a cover story. All I ever did was to tell him to tell the truth about what happened.

That fight kind of spiraled about this issue of cover story so that Corsi has now filed a major defamation lawsuit against Stone for saying terrible things about him. So Corsi, in addition to suing Robert Mueller, is suing Roger Stone, which I think mostly just proves that he has a lawyer - Larry Klayman - who likes publicity. I don't think either of these lawsuits are going to go anywhere.

GROSS: Meanwhile, Stone called you to say Corsi is certifiably insane.

TOOBIN: Yes. Again, with - Roger Stone's character is to gift for understatement. He said that Corsi was certifiably insane. Yeah.

GROSS: OK. Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. And one of the things we'll talk about is where things stand in Mueller's investigation with Stone and with Corsi. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jeffrey Toobin, who writes about legal affairs for The New Yorker and is CNN's chief legal correspondent. His latest New Yorker article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel: Why The Mismatched Operatives Matter To Trump - And To The Mueller Investigation." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMANDA GARDIER'S "FJORD")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal correspondent who also covers legal affairs for The New Yorker. His latest article is about Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, two conspiracy theorists and political operatives who became part of Trump's orbit. They're being investigated by Robert Mueller for their involvement in the WikiLeaks release of emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails were stolen by Russians who hacked into accounts of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta. Hillary Clinton's campaign chair.

Stone has been indicted on seven counts by Robert Mueller, including five counts of lying, one count of obstruction and one of witness tampering. What about Corsi? Where do things stand with him? What specifically is he being investigated for, and has he been charged with anything?

TOOBIN: Well it's, a very peculiar situation with Corsi. Corsi gave several interviews to the Mueller office, FBI agents and prosecutors there. He also testified in the grand jury. In November, he was presented - his lawyers were presented with a draft indictment of Corsi for making false statements in the course of those interviews. It was just a draft, but it looked to all the world like Mueller was getting ready to charge Corsi with making false statements. However, since that November exchange, Mueller has done nothing. Mueller has not proceeded to charge Corsi nor has he told Corsi's lawyers that Corsi is in the clear. So I think Corsi doesn't know where he stands with Mueller, really. I think it's a very unnerving situation, understandably.

In typical fashion, the extremely prolific Corsi has already written an entire e-book about his experiences with Mueller - you know, all the interviews that he went through, his testimony before the grand jury - how stressful and complicated it was. In typical bizarre Corsi fashion, one of the accusations in the book is that in order to unnerve him at an interview, one of the prosecutors wore a see-through blouse - one of the women prosecutors wore a see-through blouse so that Corsi would become unnerved or something.

Needless to say - but I will say it - I think this is unlikely to be true. I don't think any of the Mueller team women were wearing see-through blouses at all - or certainly in an attempt to intimidate witnesses. But I think that's an interesting window into Corsi's mind, that he would even make such an accusation.

GROSS: So Roger Stone, who was indicted on seven counts, is out on bail now. But this week, he was called back to court by Judge Amy Berman Jackson for an Instagram post that he posted (laughter) on Tuesday. Would you describe it?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, Roger Stone - you know, part of his M.O. is being outrageous and calling people names and, you know, being vulgar and being rude and being obnoxious. And that's one of the things that got him thrown off Twitter. His account was was taken away from him. But he's still on Instagram.

And on - this week, he posted on Instagram a photograph of the judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with, in the corner, a sort of crosshatch circle that looked a lot like a target that's used in a firing range. And the strong implication, I think, to many viewers of that post was that he was advocating for, suggesting, raising the possibility of some kind of attack on the judge.

That was deeply concerning to a lot of people. Stone, in a series of retreats, first said you got it all wrong. That's not what I intended. Then he took it down. Then his lawyers, I think recognizing the seriousness of the situation, filed a application with the court with an apology, saying this was inappropriate and it was wrong and I apologize. The judge didn't respond to that except to set a court hearing to determine what the result should be. Now, that hasn't happened yet when we're speaking. But one...

GROSS: Yeah. We're recording this before the scheduled 2:30 hearing. So when our listeners hear this, they might know more about the outcome than we know now.

TOOBIN: Right. And then there are two basic possibilities. One is that the judge will tighten and clarify the gag order that the lawyers were already under to tell Roger Stone - even though Roger Stone is a media personality - you can't do things like this anymore and, in more specific terms, saying - you know, putting limits on what he can say in both - you know, in all forums, including social media.

The other possibility is that she could simply revoke his bail and lock him up before his trial, which is what he - she did with Paul Manafort when she thought - when she found that he was violating the terms of his bail. So this is a judge who doesn't play around. Now, my guess is that she will not revoke the bail this time. But you know, I expect Roger Stone is going to be uncharacteristically nervous. He's not a real nervous guy, but he may be real nervous going into court on Thursday because of that possibility.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Jeffrey Toobin, who writes about legal affairs for The New Yorker and is CNN's chief legal correspondent. His latest New Yorker article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel: Why The Mismatched Operatives Matter To Trump And To The Mueller Investigation." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL BISIO QUARTET'S "A.M.")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal correspondent, who also covers legal affairs for The New Yorker. His latest article is about Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, two conspiracy theorists and political operatives who became part of Trump's orbit. They're being investigated by Robert Mueller for their involvement in the WikiLeaks release of emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails were stolen by Russians, who hacked into accounts of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair.

You write in your article that the weirdest part of the Stone trial will probably involve Randy Credico testimony. And we're talking about the larger trial not the date about whether bail will be revoked or not. So tell us all about who Randy Credico is and how he figures into the story.

TOOBIN: You know, every time I think about Randy Credico in this story, I think of those old ads on TV, where the guy screams at the TV, but wait. There's more...

GROSS: (Laughter).

TOOBIN: ...Because Randy Credico's role in this is almost too bizarre to be believed. Randy Credico is a sort of fringe media figure from New York. He had - he's been a standup comedian. He's had a radio show. He's sort of a figure of the left wing in New York. He was a big Bernie Sanders supporter. He was affiliated with William Kunstler, the famous civil liberties lawyer. And he and Roger Stone met several years ago through their shared belief in marijuana legalization.

And in his radio show in 2016, Credico interviewed Julian Assange. And one of Stone's explanations for how he knew in advance about what Assange was going to do with regard to John Podesta's emails is that Randy Credico told him based on what he heard from Assange. Now, again, that's a very implausible explanation because everything Randy Credico heard from Julian Assange was on the radio. I mean, it was a radio interview - Credico was in New York. Assange was in London. So the idea that there was some secret backchannel between them is improbable.

But there is a lot of email traffic and texts between Stone and Credico, where Stone appears to be threatening Credico to align his story with Stone's about his - what information he got from Assange. And there's all these abusive texts and abusive emails, including, at one point, a threat. Now, again, one of the interesting, peculiar things about Randy Credico is that he is always accompanied by a little therapy dog - a 13-year-old dog named Bianca.

And one of the threats that Stone makes to Randy Credico is, I'm going to take that dog from you, which, you know, all of us who are dog lovers know that taking someone's dog is a very serious threat. But for Credico, it's even more serious because that dog is with him all the time, including to his trip to the grand jury here in Washington. The dog came with him to court. So that's the part of the story that, I think, is even more bizarre because Credico is going to have to testify at the trial about all these interactions, including the threat to steal Bianca the dog.

GROSS: And this is where the witness tampering comes in.

TOOBIN: Correct. That - the witness who was allegedly tampered with was Randy Credico.

GROSS: And then there was also "The Godfather" quote threat.

TOOBIN: Oh, that's right. Many people may not remember all the plot points of "Godfather: Part II." But there's a figure named Frank Pentangeli who testifies in Congress in the course of the movie. And he lies to Congress by saying he doesn't remember his connections to the Corleone family, that - he just lies by saying he can't remember, and it's not true.

And in the indictment of Roger Stone, one of the things he is accused of saying to Randy Credico is, do a Frank Pentangeli - the implication being, lie to Mueller the way Frank Pentangeli lied to Congress in the movie. Well, I asked Roger about that. And I said, well, isn't that what you were doing when you were saying, do a Frank Pentangeli? And he says, no, no, no. As you may remember, I said earlier one of Randy Credico's careers was that he was a stand-up comedian. And in his stand-up comedy, he does impressions. One of the impressions, according to Stone, that Credico does is Frank Pentangeli from the movie - the actor doing the part in the movie.

So Roger says, I wasn't telling him to lie by doing a Frank Pentangeli. I was saying, do your Frank Pentangeli impression like you used to do on stage. Now, how a D.C. jury is going to understand any of this is kind of an amazing thought in and of itself. But anyway, that's the accusation. That's the defense. And everybody should go watch "Godfather: Part II" 'cause it's a great movie anyway.

GROSS: Yes, indeed (laughter). OK. So with the story with Stone and Corsi and WikiLeaks and the Russian hackers, it's at this point - tell me if I'm right here - it's at this point hard to tell whether this is a kind of sidebar, marginal story about two outsized characters who are also conspiracy theorists or whether this could actually lead to the end game because if they were in touch with Russian intelligence and with Julian Assange about the WikiLeaks and the hacks, and if they were ordered to do it, you know, by a senior campaign official who was ordered to do it by somebody even higher - possibly even the president - that could kind of be the end game, right?

TOOBIN: Well, see, that's why this story is sort of a wonderful microcosm of the whole Russia scandal because at one level, it's about all these bumbling, peculiar people who are sort of thrashing about trying to get Donald Trump elected president in whatever way they can.

On the other hand, it's deathly serious because, you know, hacking anything, but especially hacking private emails, is a very serious crime. And it was done, we now know, by the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. And those emails were very damaging to Hillary Clinton's election. Now, you know, you can never point to one single thing which cost Hillary Clinton the election. But the combination of the release of the DNC emails in July and the Podesta emails in October was a very serious thing.

Part of the problem with proving this conspiracy is that so much of this happened in plain sight. You know, Richard Nixon had the decency to conspire in secret. Donald Trump conspires in public. He was the one who was giving speeches and saying, I love WikiLeaks. But WikiLeaks was involved in the beneficiary of crimes committed by the Russian government.

And why Stone and Corsi matter is that if there was contact between the Trump campaign, or even Trump himself, and WikiLeaks, it went through Corsi and Stone. And that's why this is a serious story, as well as a comic one - because these emails - the release of these illegally hacked emails was a critical part of this campaign. And if the Trump campaign worked with Russian interests to get them released, that's a very serious thing. And that is a conspiracy, a collusion, whatever you want to call it if it could be proved.

GROSS: Jeffrey Toobin, it is always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.

TOOBIN: Thanks, Terry.

GROSS: Jeffrey Toobin covers legal affairs for the New Yorker. His new article is titled "Roger Stone's And Jerome Corsi's Time In The Barrel." Toobin says that if Mueller releases his report next week, the Stone case will proceed. Some members of Mueller's team might stay on the case, but it would formally be turned over to the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C. The Corsi case would likely be closed without charges being filed.

If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like our interview with dream hampton, executive producer of "Surviving R. Kelly," the docuseries about the allegations surrounding the R&B star that he sexually and physically abused women, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. I'm Terry Gross.

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