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Who Is Roger Stone?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to take a few minutes to talk about Roger Stone. Who exactly is he? Now, you might have heard the name because he's had a long career in and around politics. And many, including possibly even himself, might argue he's spent his career on the dirtiest side of politics. To tell us more about him, we decided to call someone who has spent quite a bit of time learning about him. Morgan Pehme is a journalist and one of the directors of the Netflix documentary, "Get Me Roger Stone." And he's with us now from our bureau in New York.

Morgan Pehme, thanks so much for joining us.

MORGAN PEHME: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: So he came to notoriety early. As early as the 1970s, he was on Nixon's Committee to re-elect the president. He became the youngest person to testify to the Watergate grand jury. And later, he became associated with lobbying for some of the world's most notorious dictators. But what exactly does Roger Stone do? Why would somebody get me Roger Stone?

PEHME: Well, Roger is a practitioner of the dark arts of politics. If you want something done that is unscrupulous or unseemly, Roger is your man. And he is enormously adept at being a dirty trickster, and he has successfully pulled off dirty tricks for a number of people who have wound up in the White House.

MARTIN: So let me play a clip from the documentary where journalists, the people working on the film, asked him how he feels about being called a dirty trickster. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GET ME ROGER STONE")

PEHME: Well, I'm stuck with it now. It's going to be in the first paragraph of my New York Times obit, so I might as well go with the flow. The only thing I can think of worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

MARTIN: So he is a dirty trickster.

PEHME: Yes, he is - and proud of it. Roger is only too happy to play the villain and to bask in the glory of his malevolence. And he seems to turn up again and again at every low light in American history throughout the time of his life.

MARTIN: Well, as we know from the clip, he does like attention and seeks attention. And he's got this tattoo of Nixon's face on his back, which he's only too happy to show people. You know, he's known for his expensive clothes and things of that sort. But the question is, is he really that important? Because whenever he gets into trouble, as he does from time to time, people say, well, he really isn't there. He wasn't that important. He didn't really do those things. So the question I'm going to ask you is, is he really that significant a figure? And how close really is he to Donald Trump?

PEHME: Well, he certainly is an important figure over the last several decades. He is oftentimes the person that people point the finger at when something nefarious is done in politics. Sometimes Roger is responsible for those deeds, and sometimes he's not. That being said, you know, there are a number of occasions that we detail in our film where Roger was deeply involved in history-shaping events.

And certainly, in the case of Donald Trump, Roger was literally the first person to suggest to Trump to run for the presidency back in the mid-'80s. And then, meticulously, he spent the next 29 years bringing that vision to reality. And Roger was there every step of the way. And every 4 years, he would float this trial balloon of Trump running for the presidency, and he was roundly ridiculed for that. But it was Roger who ultimately got the last laugh.

MARTIN: Speaking of the last laugh, you know, there are those who even now argue that journalists, mainstream journalists have not taken Donald Trump seriously enough. They saw him as kind of a buffoon and really didn't take seriously not just his potential impact but also the malevolence that he often brings to public discourse. Could the same be said of Roger Stone? Is it that he has been seen as kind of this picaresque, amusing figure? But has his real role in American public life in your view been taken seriously until now?

PEHME: Well, Roger is such a colorful character as a bodybuilding, pot-smoking dandy swinger that it's easy to get lost in that veneer. But that veneer is a distraction from the real powerful and highly negative effect, in my opinion, that he's had on our politics. And I do think that Roger has been underestimated and misunderstood over the years, and that has been to the detriment of his opponents. And Roger has a profound understanding of the dark heart of the American public and how to speak to us in a way that will manipulate and move us to be in service of his agenda. And it was that insight that he lent to the Trump campaign.

For instance, Roger and one of his campaign associates, Sam Nunberg, by most accounts seemed to have been the founders of this idea to build the wall - that it was a great campaign rhetorical tool for Trump to use. And it meshed with the idea of Trump being a builder. And apparently, Trump was at first reluctant to embrace that idea. He thought it sounded kind of stupid. But then when he floated it in a campaign rally, it was immediately embraced. So, you know, Roger understands that hate is a more powerful motivator than love. And he has used that approach to great effect.

MARTIN: That's Morgan Pehme. He co-director the Netflix documentary "Get Me Roger Stone."

Morgan Pehme, thanks so much for joining us.

PEHME: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.