Wikinews interviews three figures from Donald Trump's political past

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Donald Trump in 2011.
Image: Gage Skidmore.

Wikinews spoke with three people associated with the early political career of U.S. businessman Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican Party's 2016 presidential nomination. Those interviewed include longtime political operative Roger Stone, a close associate of Trump and director of Trump's 2000 presidential exploratory committee; journalist Dave Shiflett, co-writer of Trump's 2000 campaign book The America We Deserve; and political consultant Russ Verney, who served as chairman of the Reform Party of the United States of America which Trump briefly joined.

In Trump's highly publicized 2016 campaign, he has run under the banner of Make America Great Again, advocating a Mexican-funded wall along the U.S.–Mexico border, renegotiation of trade terms with other nations, and a temporary halt on the immigration of Muslims to the United States. He holds a considerable lead in Republican National Convention delegates over his opponents, winning 15 of the first 24 primary and caucus contests. Though this is Trump's most visible campaign, it is not his first foray into electoral politics. He flirted with Republican presidential runs: first in 1987, when he purchased newspaper advertisements on foreign policy and delivered a campaign-like speech in the first-in-the-nation primary state of New Hampshire; and then in 2011, when he briefly led nationwide opinion polls for the presidential nomination after questioning the citizenship of President Barack Obama. Trump's most extensive campaign before now came during the 2000 presidential election when he opened an exploratory committee to consider seeking the presidential nomination of the Reform Party.

For 2000, Trump conducted various speeches and media appearances in support of his potential presidential campaign. He placed Stone in charge of his exploratory committee and hired Shiflett to work on what would become The America We Deserve. His chief opponent for the nomination was paleoconservative icon and eventual nominee Pat Buchanan who entered the race after ending his third unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Based on Buchanan's comments against American involvement in World War II, Trump attacked Buchanan as a "Hitler lover" and anti-Semite. Trump's campaign received support from then-Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura, the highest ranking elected official in the Reform Party. This placed Trump at odds with the faction of industrialist Ross Perot, the party's founder and two time presidential candidate. Verney, a Perot confidante, was chairman of the party during Trump's exploration. Though initially dismissive of the campaign, Verney eventually welcomed Trump into the race. However, the deep divisions within the party precipitated the exit of Ventura, and Trump did not seek the nomination. Despite leaving the race, Trump still appeared on Reform Party presidential primary ballots in California and Michigan, winning both states.

Over a five month period, Wikinews reporter William S. Saturn contacted the three previously involved in Trump's politics to get their thoughts on his current presidential campaign, learn more about Trump's political past including the true nature of his 2000 effort, and obtain details on his personality.

Roger Stone

Stone in 2014.
Image: Lizzie Ochoa.

Wikinews first contacted Roger Stone in October. In addition to his association with Trump, for whom he has worked as a lobbyist and advisor, Stone has a long history as a Republican Party operative, known for "dirty tricks". He worked on the infamous Committee for the Re-Election of the President for President Richard Nixon in 1972, during which he performed such tasks as planting a spy in the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, and sending a donation to a potential Republican primary opponent of Nixon under the name of a socialist organization. After Nixon's resignation, Stone served as Nixon's "man in Washington." He has a tattoo of Nixon's face on his back. Among many campaigns, Stone worked on the 1980 presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan, for which he purportedly brought a suitcase, presumably filled with cash, to the office of an influential lawyer associated with the Liberal Party of New York in order to secure the party's nomination for Independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson, effectively splitting opposition to Reagan in the state. Stone has also worked for President George H. W. Bush, Congressman Jack Kemp, Senator Bob Dole, and was employed by the George W. Bush campaign to organize against the Florida recount during the disputed 2000 presidential election. In 2004, Stone volunteered for the presidential campaign of Democrat Al Sharpton. And, ahead of the 2008 presidential election, he founded an anti-Hillary Clinton group with the acronym C.U.N.T. Recently, Stone joined the Libertarian Party, and has authored a series of political books including one accusing President Lyndon Johnson of involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Stone served on Trump's current presidential campaign before a well-publicized split last August. He remains a supporter of the campaign and discusses his association with Trump and thoughts on the current campaign.

 ((William S. Saturn )) Until a few months ago you were a long-time associate of Donald Trump. When did you first meet him and how would you describe him as a person?

  • Roger Stone: I met Donald in 1979 when I was sent to New York to organize Ronald Reagan's campaign for President. He and his father Fred Trump were members of the Reagan for President finance committee. We became good friends. I was invited to two of his weddings. He attended my wedding in Washington DC. He is very smart, very tough and can be very very funny. He is also very tall.

 ((WSS )) I've been writing an article on Wikipedia about Trump's 2000 presidential campaign. You were director of his presidential exploratory committee. Do you recall when Trump first mentioned to you that he wanted to run?

  • Stone: I have wanted Donald to run since 1988 when I arranged for him to speak to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Chamber of Commerce. I wanted him to run in 2000 — probably more than he did. The leaders of the Reform Party begged him to run but the time was not right in his business. I wanted him to run in 2012 and told him Mitt Romney was a stone-cold loser. All those who said he would never run, like that turkey McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed, look like assholes now.

 ((WSS )) Why were you willing to join Trump's 2016 presidential campaign after he was quoted in 2008 by The New Yorker describing you as a "stone cold loser" who "always tries taking credit for things he never did"?

  • Stone: I probably said some awful things about him too. We had a brief falling out over my outspoken opposition to [former New York governor] Eliot Spitzer who was/is a criminal. Trump was friends with Spitzer's father from the New York real estate world. We were subsequently reconciled and remain friends.

 ((WSS )) What are your thoughts on the 2016 presidential race thus far? Can Trump pull off a victory?

  • Stone: I strongly support Donald Trump for President. I think only Trump has the financial independence to take on the special interests. Trump doesn't need the lobbyists or the special interest money with the strings attached. He is the only one who can fix a broken system. Trump's pro-growth tax reform plan will supercharge the economy. Trump can actually cut waste because he is not beholden to the special pleaders. Trump will get in Hillary's face and confront her with her lies. Jeb [Bush] gave Hillary [Clinton] a medal. The Bush and Clinton families profiteer off public service together. Is it civility or shared criminality? Only Trump can make America great again! It will be #yuge!

Stone refused to answer additional questions on his recent activities including his potential run for the Libertarian Party's 2016 nomination for U.S. Senate in Florida and his October 2015 book The Clintons' War on Women. Stone also did not address the conspiracy theory espoused by 1996 Reform Party vice presidential nominee Pat Choate that Trump's 2000 presidential exploration was a "dirty trick" to sabotage the Pat Buchanan campaign and eliminate the Reform Party as an electoral threat to the Republican Party. Russ Verney addresses the theory further below.

Dave Shiflett

Cover of The America We Deserve
Image: Renaissance Books.

Last December, Wikinews reached out to writer Dave Shiflett to talk about his experience with Trump in co-writing The America We Deserve. According to Shiflett in The American Spectator, Shiflett was approached by Roger Stone who was on assignment from Trump to find the "most eminent hack writer in America" to write a book about a potential presidential campaign. Shiflett met with Trump for the first time in Spring 1999 to work on the book. It was released in January 2000, a month before Trump announced he would not run. Though not as well known as Trump's first book The Art of the Deal, The America We Deserve has had more relevance to his current run. In November, Trump pointed to the book to claim he recognized the threat of terrorism before the attacks of 9/11; the book does warn of attacks by suitcase nuclear device and anthrax. Some of Trump's political positions and policy proposals outlined in the book have led to attacks from his Republican primary opponents as being at odds with his 2016 platform including a pro-choice position on abortion (while noting his opposition to partial birth abortion), a ban on assault weapon ownership (as was the law at the time under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban), and the implementation of single-payer health care. Other positions in the book match his current platform including increased pressure on China, fair trade, and border control. Shiflett says he is not closely following Trump's 2016 campaign and no longer has any interest in politics. Instead, he is focused on making music, which he posts on his website He discusses what he remembers about working with Trump.

 ((William S. Saturn )) Why were you specifically selected to co-write The America We Deserve?

  • Dave Shiflett: Got the job through the White House Writer's Group. I don't know if this organization still exists. [As of March 12, 2016, the group has a functioning website at]

 ((WSS )) What was it like to work with Donald Trump?

  • Shiflett: Trump was a lot of fun. Didn't seem to take himself too seriously. He was most passionate about his fear of a terrorist attack on New York, which he talks about in the book.

 ((WSS )) How much input did Roger Stone have in the content of The America We Deserve?

  • Shiflett: I wrote the book without any input from Stone.

 ((WSS )) Was there any indication that Trump was not serious about the campaign or did not want to run?

  • Shiflett: I was under the impression that he was on a lark. As I recall he ended his pursuit of the White House fairly soon after the book came out.

Russ Verney

Verney in 2008.
Image: Bob Barr.

Wikinews reached out early this month to Russ Verney, who served as chairman of the Reform Party during Trump's exploratory bid for the party's presidential nomination in 2000. Verney previously worked on the 1992 presidential campaign of Ross Perot and became chairman of the Reform Party upon its founding by Perot in 1995. When Perot ran as the party's presidential nominee in 1996, he named Verney as campaign director. Later, Verney headed the Perot faction of the party when a schism between Perot's supporters and the supporters of Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura threatened to split the party. With Trump potentially running as a member of the Ventura faction, Verney was initially dismissive of a Trump candidacy. In a July 1999 interview with New York Daily News, he said party members were not drafting Trump for president and "never spent one second thinking about him." Later in the year, Verney commented he had not heard a "compelling reason [...] for [Trump] to seek the presidency." After Trump invited members of the Reform Party, including Verney, to his compound outside Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida in January 2000, Verney praised Trump, expressing "[t]his is him reaching out to all parts of the Reform Party, and that's good." However, Trump continued attacks on Pat Buchanan, focusing largely on the support Buchanan garnered from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. These comments received greater attention in 2016 when Trump himself received an endorsement from Duke and the Ku Klux Klan. Trump's seeming inability to disavow the support in an interview with CNN (despite an earlier disavowal) formed part of the basis of the March 2016 speech in which Mitt Romney urged Republicans not to vote for Trump. After Trump dropped out of the 2000 race, ceasing his attacks on Buchanan, Buchanan received 0.42% of the general election vote, far below Perot's 1996 showing of 8.40%. After the 2000 election, Verney left the party and began working as a regional director and national adviser for the conservative foundation Judicial Watch. In 2008, he worked as campaign manager for the presidential run of Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr. Recently, he was hired as executive director for Project Veritas, a conservative group known for investigative film journalism. Verney answers questions about his meetings with Trump, responds to the accusation that Trump's 2000 exploratory committee was a "dirty trick" to hurt the Reform Party, and analyzes Trump's rise in the 2016 campaign.

 ((William S. Saturn )) You were the chairman of the Reform Party in 1999 when Donald Trump opened an exploratory committee to run for the party's presidential nomination. He invited you and other party members to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach. What do you recall about this meeting?

  • Russ Verney: I don't believe the meeting he invited Reform Party leaders was at Mar-a-Lago. I recall it being in a function room but not at Mar-a-Lago. He was a warm gracious host who took time to listen to the people in the room.

 ((WSS )) What was your impression of Donald Trump upon meeting him?

  • Verney: I met Donald Trump once in his office, a second time at that meeting in Florida and a third time when my wife and I were his guests at Mar-a-Lago for a weekend. I think he is very personable.

 ((WSS )) Pat Choate, Ross Perot's 1996 running mate who became Chairman of the Reform Party in 2000 accused Trump of being a GOP plant to sabotage the Pat Buchanan campaign and eliminate the Reform Party as an electoral threat. Considering that Trump often referred to Buchanan as a "Hitler-lover" and that Buchanan did worse than projected in the general election from which the Reform Party never fully recovered, is there any merit to Choate's accusation?

  • Verney: Donald Trump never became a candidate for the Reform Party nomination. In fact it was Pat Buchanan who orchestrated a hostile takeover of the Reform Party and once he secured the public financing available to the Reform Party nominee he went underground with his campaign so he wouldn't jeopardize George Bush in the General Election. Pat Buchanan got more votes to be the Reform Party nominee than he got on Election Day.

 ((WSS )) What are your thoughts on Trump's 2016 campaign?

  • Verney: I think Trump is tapping into the anti-establishment vote that is huge and just waiting for an opportunity to express itself. The more the establishment tries to stop him like Romney's speech today, the stronger his support will grow. People are supporting him because he isn't "one of them" and they don't care what his issues are.

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This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

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