Advise a larger-than-life New Yorker? Check. Disrupt the party establishment? Check. Hijack the primary debates? Check.
A funny thing about the Nixon-tattooed showy master of the shadowy arts who’s helped make Donald J. Trump the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination: He worked out his playbook for using a larger-than-life New Yorker to blow up a party’s establishment by hijacking debates with incendiary comments and earned media coverage a dozen years ago, on behalf of a Democrat.
That was when Roger Stone, who claims credit for, among other things, exposing Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s hooker habit and the Brooks Brothers riot he says made George W. Bush president, crossed party lines to work for—deep breath, Trumpsters—the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The Sharpton-Stone alliance is a piece of recent history that none of the three men want to talk about now, but one that the great Wayne Barrett extensively documented for the Village Voice in 2004, in the midst of Sharpton’s attention-grabbing and ill-fated bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Barrett’s bottom line:
Stone played a pivotal role in putting together Sharpton’s pending application for federal matching funds, getting dollars in critical states from family members and political allies at odds with everything Sharpton represents. He’s also helped stack the campaign with a half-dozen incongruous top aides who’ve worked for him in prior campaigns. He’s even boasted about engineering six-figure loans to Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) and allowing Sharpton to use his credit card to cover thousands in NAN costs—neither of which he could legally do for the campaign.
Stone and Sharpton had a mutual interest, one of the men who arranged their initial meeting told Barrett: “they both hate the Democratic party.”
Neither of the two—with Sharpton now having remade himself as a frequent visitor to the Obama White House and Stone a top outside advisor to Trump, albeit one who’s nominally separate from the campaign—wanted the story of their unlikely alliance revealed then, or brought back to light now. Trump’s campaign didn’t respond to questions about this story and denied the reporter’s request for press credentials to an event Sunday on Staten Island.
Both Stone and Sharpton—who Barrett called “outlandish personalities too large to be bound by the constraints that govern the rest of us,” a description that also applies to the Donald—have long histories with Trump.
Stone has been the rare advisor who’s kept Trump’s ear over the years (and, Barrett reported, worked behind the scenes to help Donald’s sister, judge Maryanne Trump Barry, win her seat on the federal bench) while Sharpton has done business with Trump in what he’s called an unlikely friendship that goes back to the days when the Trump casinos in Atlantic City were actually owned by Trump and he contributed to Sharpton’s old operation, when then-heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, managed by Sharpton’s friend Don King, was fighting at the Donald’s venues there. The Sharpton-Trump link, through King and Tyson, is no secret, and takes up some space in Jack Newfield’s 1995 book “Only in America: The Life and Crimes of Don King” (Trump, again according to Barrett, was Newfield’s main source).
“I had nothing to do with Trump or boxing in Atlantic City,” Sharpton told me last Thursday in the ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where the Rev. held his 25th annual National Action Network (NAN) convention. The group replaced Sharpton’s National Youth Movement, which Trump had contributed to and that was the subject of multiple tax investigations in New York before it was shuttered.
And “Roger Stone had nothing to do with my campaign,” Sharpton said, when I asked about his unlikely alliance with the self-described “GOP hitman,” who the reverend said had only helped the NAN and not his presidential bid. “If you’ve got a hatchet job, write it.”
When I cited Barrett’s comprehensive reporting (which included documentation of Stone and a wide circle of his allies delivering critical contributions to the campaign as it struggled to reach the threshold for collecting matching funds), Sharpton attacked the messenger, saying, “I could tell you fifteen different stories he wrote about people in this room, including MSNBC, that were not true.”
(Barrett, who replied to that charge only by pointing to a 2011 New York Times article highlighting his decades of unblemished investigative work, reported a series of articles that same year for the Daily Beast on Sharpton’s role in helping to facilitate the merger of Comcast and NBC, a prelude to him receiving his own MSNBC television show, since demoted to Sunday mornings.)
Pressed to clarify Stone’s role in the 2004 campaign, which set the stage for Sharpton’s later ascendance in liberal media, the reverend conceded: “He introduced me to some Democratic guys that helped me, but he didn’t give me campaign advice. Roger Stone helped us with NAN, because I said while I was running, I needed to support NAN. He helped NAN.”