Trump associate denies Russia collusion ahead of House visit

Longtime Donald Trump associate Roger Stone says there is “not one shred of evidence” that he was involved with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Stone is defending himself in a lengthy statement released ahead of a closed-door appearance before the House intelligence committee Tuesday. He has also released a series of supporting documents, including direct messages he exchanged with Guccifer 2.0, the unnamed hacker who has taken credit for breaking into Democratic National Committee email servers.

“While some may label me a dirty trickster, the members of this committee could not point to any tactic that is outside the accepted norms of what political strategists and consultants do today. I do not engage in any illegal activities on behalf of my clients or the causes in which I support,” Stone said in the prepared statement. “There is one ‘trick’ that is not in my bag and that is treason.”

Stone, a Republican strategist who has known Trump for many years and informally advised him during the 2016 campaign, also denies he had advance knowledge of the leak of former Clinton Campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails and says he never colluded with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. He has long denied that he worked with Russian officials to influence the presidential election.

The interviews come as the House and Senate intelligence panels are looking into the Russian meddling and possible links to Trump’s campaign. Stone has been part of the investigation partly because he has said he communicated during the presidential campaign with Guccifer 2.0.

Stone is, for the first time, releasing those communications, which he says are “innocuous.” The direct messages on Twitter, exchanged over a monthlong period, show Stone first congratulating Guccifer for being reinstated on Twitter after he was kicked off, and asking that the account retweet a tweet about how the election could be rigged against Trump. Guccifer writes, “I’m pleased to say that u r great man …. please tell me if I can help u anyhow.”

Stone doesn’t respond again until several weeks later, when Guccifer asks him about an article on a Democratic turnout model. Stone replies “pretty standard.”

The strategist has been outspoken in his own defense and asked for his House appearance to be public. But he said the House panel insisted on holding the session behind closed doors.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested in March that Stone had a direct line to Russian hackers based on his comments predicting the release of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. Stone says in the statement that his comments were misrepresented, writing “Shame on you Mr. Schiff.”

The House panel will also interview former Trump staffer Boris Epshteyn this week, according to a source familiar with the interview. The person declined to be named because the panel’s meetings are private.

Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.

The interviews come as the House and Senate intelligence panels are looking into the meddling and scrutinizing the spread of false news stories and propaganda on social media. The Senate intelligence committee will speak to officials from Twitter Thursday, also behind closed doors.

Beyond this week, the committees plan for a busy October, with the Senate intelligence panel bringing Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, in for a public hearing Oct. 25. Senate committee leaders have also said they want Facebook and other social media outlets to appear publicly next month.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will testify Oct, 18 before the Senate Judiciary Committee — the first time since he was confirmed in February. Sessions has recused himself from Russia investigations, and the Justice Department has appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate the involvement of Russia in the U.S. election. But Sessions is still likely to face questions about Russia and the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Sessions also has been subpoenaed by House Intelligence chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who is asking the Justice Department and the FBI for documents related to a dossier of salacious allegations involving President Donald Trump and possible ties to Russia.

If the documents are not produced, the committee is seeking to compel Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray to testify in an open hearing.

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