WASHINGTON — Steve Bannon, who served as chief executive of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, told jurors Friday he saw Roger Stone as "an access point" to WikiLeaks, which later released hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign.
Bannon appeared as reluctant witness in Stone's criminal trial in federal court under subpoena and said he otherwise would not have taken the stand.
Stone, a colorful political operative and Trump ally, is charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about his attempts to contacts WikiLeaks about damaging material during the 2016 presidential campaign.
On the witness stand, Bannon said Stone boasted about connections to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, regularly implying he had an inside track on WikiLeaks. He also detailed that there would be information coming from the anti-secrecy organization that would be "hurting Hilary Clinton and helping the Trump campaign," Bannon said.
"The campaign had no official access to WikiLeaks or to Julian Assange. But Roger would be considered if we needed an access point," Bannon said.
While Stone repeatedly "implied that he had a connection with WikiLeaks," he never stated it directly, Bannon added.
Bannon said he had been interviewed several times by special counsel Robert Mueller's team, which was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and potential coordination with the Trump campaign. He also appeared before a federal grand jury and testified before Congress about the matters.
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Earlier, a comedian and former talk show host told jurors that Stone pressured him into backing up lies he told Congress, threatening to take away his dog at one point.
Randy Credico said Stone pressed him to "go along" with a false account of the operative's contacts with WikiLeaks during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
"He wanted me to go along with this narrative," Credico said in his second day of testimony.
Stone called a Credico a "rat" and a "stoolie" in a threatening April 2018 email.
"My lawyers are dying to rip you to shreds. I'm going to take that dog away from you," he said in the email, which Credico read aloud in court.
The former radio host told the court he's had the dog, Bianca, since 2006. "I have no wife, no kids, I've been around the dog for 12 years," he said.
The testimony is damaging to Stone as he faces a federal trial on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering.
Credico has occasionally provoked laughter in court and warnings from the judge. He says Stone used references from the movie "Godfather" to intimidate him into backing up Stone's testimony to Congress.
Thursday's testimony detailed the acrimonious collapse of the relationship between the liberal Credico and Stone, a conservative who revered Richard Nixon so much that he has the disgraced former president's face tattooed on his back.
Credico and Stone met in 2002 through the campaign of a third-party candidate for New York governor. Despite their political differences, Stone was a regular guest on Credico's radio show.
"He's good on radio," Credico said of Stone. "He's a good guest to have on."
Stone is a confidant of President Donald Trump who claimed he had inside information that WikiLeaks would release information damaging to Hillary Clinton.
He told Congress that Credico was the source of his inside information. Testimony from federal investigators has shown he was in fact working with Jerome Corsi, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who worked with Stone to help Trump in 2016.
Credico maintains that he and Stone never discussed WikiLeaks before late August 2016, making it impossible that he was the "trusted intermediary" that Stone had been referring to for months.
Credico did manage to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange through a mutual acquaintance and hosted Assange on his radio show on Aug. 25, 2016. He says Stone, who had already claimed in interviews to have a back-channel link to Assange, immediately started asking Credico to put him in touch with Assange.
Prosecutors have said Stone lied about his efforts to learn more about the WikiLeaks releases because the truth about his efforts could damage Trump.