Me and Roger Stone

Tracing connections between the Nixon and Trump White Houses

I’ve “known” Roger Stone, whose prison sentence recently was commuted by President Trump, for 47 years, but only learned of it last year. Here’s how we met.

IT WAS, by early 1970s anti-war demonstration standards, to be a mild affair. A few hundred people would attend the reading of an anti-Vietnam war-themed theatrical play on the west steps of the US Capitol, followed by an all-night reading of the names of US war dead, numbering about 50,000 at the time.

Instead, it became a case study in the lawlessness of the White House under President Richard M. Nixon. Roger Stone learned then how to commit crimes against the American people and get away with it, as would happen again years later on behalf of his friend Donald Trump.

I was a principal organizer for the Washington, DC, event, held on May 3, 1972. My job was to coordinate logistics for the event, a role I performed at scores of anti-war and related activities over a seven-year period, including the Harrisburg Seven trial in which the Rev. Philip Berrigan, Sister Elizabeth McAlister, and five others were falsely charged with a scheme to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the Attica Brothers defense committee; and the Vietnam Moratorium Committee, the largest anti-war organizing effort in the history of the war.

For the reading of the play, parts were assigned to a few celebrities, including Daniel Ellsberg, who had just been identified as the person who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers. Also reading parts were the actor Donald Sutherland and the singer Judy Collins.

Coincidentally, the body of J. Edgar Hoover, for seven decades head of the FBI, was lying in state in the Capitol, just up the stairs and backstage from us. A cordon of Capitol Police separated those who came to memorialize Hoover from the anti-war crowd. I did not arrange for any security for the event because there did not seem to be a need: It was just a play, after all, and the crowd was going to be small – a few hundred people.

When Ellsberg took the microphone to read his part, the shouting began.

Young, pro-war American student counterdemonstrators emerged from all directions and started yelling profanities at Ellsberg. Older Cuban-Americans, several of whom had been Bay of Pigs veterans, were screaming at Ellsberg from the rear of the stage; others moved toward him from behind the stage, as later was learned by the Watergate special prosecutor’s office, to bring physical harm to him.

Only they didn’t get to Ellsberg because I got in the way. In my attempt to ascertain what was happening back stage, Frank Sturgis, a legendary anti-Castro Cuban veteran, knocked me unconscious. It was then that the Capitol Police moved in and arrested the Cuban-Americans, Sturgis included.

The counterdemonstrators, who were there to provide cover for what was to happen to Ellsberg, were not arrested.

As was learned later, some of the Cuban-Americans had broken in to Dan Ellsberg’s therapist’s office in Los Angeles; still others later would be arrested while trying to break in to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate complex, Sturgis among them.

Ellsberg and I testified to Watergate special prosecution staff attorneys. The attorney who interviewed me, Nick Ackerman, has been a regular cable television commentator recently on matters related to the Robert Mueller investigation.

Akerman recently released papers from the Watergate archives (a set of which he gave to me, including his interview notes and my sketch of the scene of the May 1972 crime) to NBC that pertain to the attack on Ellsberg. Akerman’s intent was to show that, much as in 1972, a White House can become a vast criminal enterprise. Here’s some of what the Akerman papers revealed.

The young, college-aged kids, who were screaming at Ellsberg through bullhorns, were organized by 19-year-old Roger Stone, who was recruited for the task by Nixon White House staff. Nixon, White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, assistant to the president for domestic affairs John Ehrlichman, special counsel to the president Chuck Colson, former CIA agents E. Howard Hunt and Bernard Barker, White House undercover operative Gordon Liddy, and others either directed the attack, or worked to cover it up.

The person Stone recruited to organize the counterdemonstrators was 22-year-old Karl Rove, director of the College Republican National Committee. Rove, who would later serve as White House political advisor to President George W. Bush, would play a role in outing CIA analyst Valerie Plame. Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, was a critic of the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, a rationale for the US invasion of Iraq.

Bush White House advisor I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was found guilty of charges related to the Plame matter. Charges never were brought against Rove, who did acknowledge that he thought he would be indicted. President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence prior to his having served any jail time, the first instance of the commutation power of the president being used that way; previously some jail time was always served.

Sound familiar? It must have seemed so to Roger Stone, who just had his sentence commuted without having to serve a day behind bars for having committed crimes on behalf of Donald Trump.

And to bring the 1972 story full circle: President Trump issued a full pardon to Scooter Libby in April of 2018.

For complicated legal reasons, the assault on the anti-war demonstrators in 1972, and Dan Ellsberg in particular, never got the attention it deserved. But it made a big impression on Watergate prosecutor Akerman. As he recently explained to MSNBC’s Ari Melber: “I think that what it tells us is that Watergate was a much greater attack on our democracy from all different respects. People think of it as just the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. It was much more than that.”

Vast criminal enterprises are not confined to offices of the Genco Pura Olive Oil Company, where the fictional Vito Corleone held court, or at the Bada Bing strip club, where Tony Soprano ran his mythical operation.

Meet the Author

Michael Segal

President, InstaTrac Inc.
They can be situated in the Oval Office of the White House, as they were in the 1970s. As they are again today.

Michael Segal was a Boston-based journalist for 12 years, and co-author of a biography of 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis. Since 1994 he has owned and managed the InstaTrac legislative information service.