DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in for Terry Gross. Over the past year, many Americans have learned about a longtime adviser to Donald Trump named Roger Stone, but political insiders have known about Stone for decades. A colorful operative known for provocative statements, Stone has worked on countless campaigns and has been repeatedly accused of disinformation and dirty tricks, many of which he happily owns up to.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Stone said he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, which released hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta. Stone has been called to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, which is looking into Russian interference in the election. He's also just been named in an invasion of privacy lawsuit filed by two Democratic donors and a DNC staff member who say they were harmed by information released in the hacked emails.
Our guest today, Morgan Pehme, co-directed a documentary about Stone with Daniel DiMauro and Dylan Bank. They spent five years making the film, "Get Me Roger Stone," which is available on Netflix. Morgan Pehme has worked as a filmmaker and a journalist and is now executive director of Effective New York, a watchdog group that focuses on state government in New York.
Well, Morgan Pehme, welcome to FRESH AIR. I thought we'd begin with a clip that's very early in the film. And it's kind of in two parts. One, we hear Roger Stone introducing himself in an interview that you did, and then there's a little bit of archival video from years earlier when he's kind of talking about what he does. So let's listen - Roger Stone.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GET ME ROGER STONE")
ROGER STONE: My name is Roger Stone, and I'm an agent provocateur.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STONE: Stone's rules are things that I have learned in life that I seek to pass on to others who may want to be in the same business that I'm in or actually any business because they're fully applicable. So for example, a Stone's rule - it is better to be infamous than never be famous at all - Stone's rule.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STONE: One man's dirty trick is another man's political, civic action. Everything I do, everything I've ever done has been legal. But politics ain't beanbag, and losers don't legislate.
DAVIES: And that is the plain-spoken Roger Stone from the new film "Get Me Roger Stone" co-directed by our guest, Morgan Pehme. You know, this guy has been known to insiders as a bad boy of American politics for decades. One of the most amazing stories to me is he says his first use of disinformation in a political campaign came in grade school. Share that one with us.
MORGAN PEHME: Yeah, so Roger, when he was in grade school, was involved in a mock election in his school in Connecticut. And it was between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy for the presidency. Though Roger had always been kind of inclined toward the Republican Party, his parents were Catholic, and he thought that John F. Kennedy had much better hair than Richard Nixon. So he was inclined to support JFK.
And his idea to throw the race to JFK was to stand at the end of the cafeteria line and tell every child that walked past that Richard Nixon had intended to extend the school day to - the school week to Saturdays. And so in a landslide, JFK won the election, and Roger said that this was the first time that he had ever used disinformation. And of course he's never practiced it since then.
DAVIES: (Laughter) He found he had a gift. He reads Barry Goldwater's book - what is it? - "Conscience Of A Conservative"...
PEHME: That's right.
DAVIES: ...And embraces conservative ideology. And then, like, I guess when he's 19 or so, he's in college, and he ends up getting involved with Richard Nixon's re-election campaign in 1972, the one that led to the Watergate break-in and the scandal that ended Nixon's presidency - Nixon known for the - you know, as among the biggest dirty trickster in American political history. What role did Roger Stone play in the Nixon campaign?
PEHME: One of the things that's so extraordinary about Roger is that he is a true political prodigy. And I don't think there are that many of them in our politics. He was already involved in political campaigns when he was in his early teens. By the time he was in high school, he was electing grown men to office in New York and in Connecticut, and then they would call him in his dorm room when he was a freshman, and he would inform them how to vote on key issues.
Right from the outset, he had both had a gift for politics and a taste for power. And so when he joined the Nixon campaign at 19 years old, he wasn't coming in as some ruddy-faced intern. He was already respected by the people who saw that he had a gift inside of CREEP, which is the acronym for the president's re-election campaign.
DAVIES: Committee to Re-Elect the President, right - CREEP.
PEHME: That's correct, yes. I admit I guess they didn't embrace that acronym. But it has gone down in history as the acronym. Roger was not exactly a piker in the campaign, but he was still just a lower-level, dirty trickster. They sent him on some missions to undermine some of Nixon's opponents. And because he had engaged in these lower-level, dirty tricks, he ended up becoming the youngest person called before the Watergate grand jury.
And he was discussed in the testimony during the grand jury. And Roger says that, you know, he was pretty much just a low-level henchman. But afterwards, he was really branded with the infamy of having been involved in Watergate. And rather than try to run away from it, he embraced it, and he kind of - this gave him street cred so that he could move up in the party. And he used it as a springboard later on to become elected president of the National Young Republicans, which was really his first major stepping stone into the highest rungs of Republican politics.
DAVIES: So Roger Stone is a bit player in Richard Nixon's re-election campaign and in the dirty tricks that accompanied it - didn't have a personal relationship with Nixon. That did come later. Tell us about that.
PEHME: What's so fascinating about Roger was that he was drawn to Nixon after Nixon had left his office in disgrace, when he was - when Nixon was radioactive to the nation and a pariah. But Roger saw in Nixon a potential mentor. And he sought Nixon out. And at this point in Roger's career, he had already played an integral role in Ronald Reagan's election.
And so he ended up being a conduit between the Reagan White House and Nixon. Nixon was very eager to give advice to Reagan. Reagan understood Nixon's genius and was willing to receive these missives that were brought back and forth by Roger. And Roger also set up off-the-record dinners with Nixon and key members of the media.
One of Roger's gifts is cultivating the press. And so he would set up these meetings at Nixon's home in New Jersey that reporters could hear Nixon's opinions on the issues of the day. And Nixon, in turn, could kind of slip his view into the news cycle.
DAVIES: So Roger Stone - before he helped in Reagan's campaign in 1980, he ran and was elected chairman of the Young Republicans - the national chairman of the Young Republicans, right?
PEHME: That's correct. He really wanted to change the Republican Party into the party that it ended up becoming, which was one that was far more conservative, that was influenced by Goldwater principles, not this Eisenhower earnestness and a more moderate Rockefeller side. But he wanted to make it into the hard-line conservatives. His current wife says that when she first met Roger, he looked to her like a Nazi Hitler Youth and that he was this true believer in absolute conservative right-wing principles. And Roger even calls it his Aryan phase.
And so Roger wanted to graft his worldview onto the Young Republicans. There was dissension among the Young Republicans between the two factions - the more moderate one and Roger's conservative one. But interestingly enough, his campaign manager was Paul Manafort, who would obviously go on to be campaign chairman for Donald Trump and would become Roger's very close business partner and lifelong associate. And Manafort and Stone were able to take over the party and to drive their agenda through the National Young Republicans. And they ended up using Young Republicans as a vehicle to change the trajectory of the Republican Party for the grown-ups as well.
DAVIES: Yeah, and it was fascinating to learn that Stone and Paul Manafort's ties go back that far. How did they know each other?
PEHME: They met in Connecticut through Young Republicans. And they instantly recognized in each other their mutual genius. And they found the kind of the best and the best of their generation, among them Lee Atwater, who would end up becoming the person who made George H.W. Bush the president and Charlie Black, as well.
DAVIES: Morgan Pehme's new film "Get Me Roger Stone" is available on Netflix. We'll continue our conversation after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATT ULERY'S "GAVE PROOF")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with filmmaker Morgan Pehme. He co-directed a new documentary about the political consultant and adviser to Donald Trump, Roger Stone. It's called "Get Me Roger Stone." And it's available on Netflix.
So Stone is a regional director for Reagan's successful election campaign in 1980. He's a really, you know, relatively important figure at this point. And after Reagan's election, he forms a lobbying firm with Paul Manafort and Charlie Black. It's - what is it - Black, Stone and Manafort? Black, Manafort and Stone, right?
PEHME: Black, Manafort and Stone, that's correct.
DAVIES: What did they do? What kind of lobbying did they do?
DAVIES: Describe their approach, yeah.
PEHME: Initially the firm was Black, Manafort, Stone and Atwater, until Lee Atwater left the firm to work with H.W. Bush. But what was so unique about Black, Manafort and Stone was twofold. First, they were the first campaign consultants who decided that after they elected somebody, they would turn around and profit off of the successful candidates by lobbying them. Prior to Black, Manafort and Stone having this breakthrough of sorts, it was considered distasteful in Washington to be on both sides of the fence.
But Black, Manafort and Stone thought that was naive, and they decided to make the utmost of it. And they had a great person to do that in the form of Ronald Reagan, who they had just gotten into the White House. And so they immediately profited from the Reagan administration. The other thing that was unique about Black, Manafort and Stone was later on, they brought in a Democrat, a top Democratic strategist named Peter Kelly. And they became the first bipartisan firm in Washington on K Street, which enabled them to triangulate every campaign and every issue from every direction. So they would profit both from the Democratic perspective and from the Republican side. And so they were great innovators in making money on K Street.
And now, those practices are so commonplace that we - it's hard to imagine a time when everyone wasn't doing it. But Black, Manafort and Stone were the trailblazers in this transformation of lobbying. And we argue in our film that this was integral to the degradation of our politics and the cynicism that pervades Washington that is so distasteful to the American public.
DAVIES: Yeah, it's quaint to think that there was a time when political operatives, who helped people get elected, didn't trade on that access and those relationships to make money from special interest. It was two separate things back then. There were lobbyists, and there were political operatives.
PEHME: That's right. And certainly, the lobbying business hadn't exploded the way that it is now - just a multibillion dollar industry. And - but Black, Manafort and Stone, they really saw what were the weaknesses in this system. They saw how to exploit it. Earlier on, Charlie Black and Roger and - had gotten to really know each other by understanding a shortcoming of the campaign finance law.
In the wake of the 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision Buckley v. Valeo, they understood that this opened the door for the creation of what we now know as super PACs, that you could contribute an unlimited amount of money to candidates as long as you didn't do so directly through the campaign, that you did it through an independent expenditure. And this opened up the floodgates for the tsunami of money in our politics. And so they - along with Terry Dolan, who was the head of this organization that was this first vehicle for independent expenditures called NCPAC, the National Conservative Political Action Committee, this - they really understood what were the vulnerabilities in our system. And they took advantage of them to maximum effect.
DAVIES: So this lobbying firm that they form, Black, Manafort and Stone, what kind of clients did they have?
PEHME: They - Black, Manafort and Stone had among the largest corporations in the country, people like Rupert Murdoch. They also were particularly well-known as the so-called Torturers' Lobby because they were willing to take on clients like a slew of third-world dictators - Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Jonas Savimbi in Angola, Mobutu Sese Seko in the Republic of the Congo.
And they felt perfectly at ease taking on these clients because these dictators were all ostensibly fighting Communists and in line with the Republican, Reagan agenda of the time. And Charlie Black says in our film that if you want to give criticism to Congress that funded these dictators and the wars that they were waging, that they will take that criticism at Black, Manafort and Stone. But they were really doing something that was viewed - they viewed as patriotic at the time. And they are unabashed in having worked for these people with absolutely horrible human rights records.
DAVIES: So how did Roger Stone meet Donald Trump?
PEHME: Roger was introduced to Donald Trump through Roy Cohn, who was something of a mentor both to Stone and to Trump. Roy Cohn was an absolute...
DAVIES: Roy Cohn is a whole story in and of himself. Maybe you should...
PEHME: Certainly, I...
DAVIES: Some of our listeners know the name and others won't. Tell us about Roy Cohn.
PEHME: He was an absolutely despicable, infamous lawyer-fixer based in New York City who was - first came to prominence being involved in the McCarthy hearings, where he drove the red-baiting agenda to attack people who were allegedly Communists. And Roy Cohn was as tough as they came - absolutely, perhaps, gave rise to Stone's roles. He was a person who annihilated anyone who stood in his path and was willing to do anything to succeed, both for himself and for his clients.
And he was really drawn to Trump. There's an incredible bit of archive in our film back in the '80s where Cohn says that Donald Trump is as close to a genius as anyone in this country. And he saw in Trump, immediately, the possibilities of Trump's career, the trajectory that he could possibly have.
And he also saw in Roger a kindred soul, a mentee, and a person who could take Trump by the hand and guide him. And as - and that's why he connected them. And Roger instantly was drawn to Trump. They formed a fast friendship, a fast business connection. And Roger became Trump's lobbyist in Washington, in New York, and started working on his political - on his business affairs.
At the same time, though, he saw a real political possibility in Trump. And as early as 1987, he was already pushing Trump to run for the presidency.
DAVIES: Yeah, this is a fascinating piece of history in light of the events of the past two years. And I thought we'd listen to a clip here where Roger Stone is explaining kind of why he thinks Trump could be an effective politician.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GET ME ROGER STONE")
STONE: Fifteen seasons of "The Apprentice" not only makes him a smooth television performer, but think of the way he looked in that show - high-backed chair, perfectly lit, great makeup, great hair, decisive, making decisions, running the show. He looks presidential. Do you think voters, non-sophisticates, make a difference between entertainment and politics? Politics is show business for ugly people.
DAVIES: So that is Roger Stone explaining why he thinks Trump would be an effective presidential candidate and a little bit about his own view of politics. It's from the film "Get Me Roger Stone," which is co-directed by our guest, Morgan Pehme. It is available on Netflix.
He talks about wanting to - looking for a horse to back in politics, Roger Stone does, and describes Trump as a great piece of political horse flesh. Is it just Trump's kind of innate abilities to communicate, or is there some political ideology or approach that he is connecting with too?
PEHME: Over the five and a half years that Dan DiMauro, Dylan Bank - my co-directors and I - followed Roger, he would always tell us about how Trump should run for the presidency and how Trump could succeed. And we thought that was ludicrous.
And the idea was - that Roger always said was - that Trump had the celebrity, that he could break through to a wide audience and that he could circumvent the media and have this megaphone to talk directly to the people, that Trump had cultivated the outsider image, that he could come in and he could shake up Washington, and that he had the businessman acumen that would give him the credential to come in and shake up what has become a dysfunctional system.
Roger articulated this back in 1987. And he subsequently laid the groundwork, through his deeds and misdeeds, for that to come to fruition. And so Roger, to his enormous credit, you know, went through 29 years or 28 years of people berating him and telling him how absolutely ridiculous it was that Trump could ever be the president. And ultimately, of course, Roger was completely vindicated.
DAVIES: Morgan Pehme co-directed the film "Get Me Roger Stone", which is available on Netflix. After a break, he'll tell us about the personal scandal that derailed Stone's career and why he's been called to testify before the Senate intelligence committee. Also, Justin Chang reviews the new film "The War For The Planet Of The Apes." I'm Dave Davies. And this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVE MCKENNA, JAKE HANNA AND SCOTT HAMILTON'S "SWINGING AT THE COPPER RAIL")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We're speaking with Morgan Pehme, who co-directed a documentary about Roger Stone, the colorful political operative who's been accused of disinformation and dirty tricks for decades. The film "Get Me Roger Stone" is available on Netflix. Stone's a longtime adviser to Donald Trump and first tried to get him to run for president in the 1988 election.
In 1988, Trump flirts with running for president, decides not to. And Roger Stone, you know, has a career as a - I guess as sort of a somewhat conventional political consultant. He works for various campaigns. He was chairman of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter's effort at a presidential bid in 1995 and '96 ends up with the Republican candidate Bob Dole's presidential campaign in 1996. That was, you know, Bill Clinton running for re-election. And then something terrible happened to his career. Tell us about this.
PEHME: So Roger was a true Washington insider. He had been integral in Jack Kemp's campaign. He had tried to make Arlen Specter the president. And then he finds himself working for Bob Dole, who a close associate of Roger's says there couldn't have been a candidate that he would be less enthusiastic about running for the presidency. And again, Roger always wanted to have his hooks in whoever was the Republican nominee, so he ends up a national chairman of Dole's campaign. And shortly after the Dole campaign launches, the National Enquirer comes out with a story unmasking Roger and his wife as swingers. They were placing ads in swinger magazines looking for - particularly for - and this is a direct quote - "well-hung men to join them" and other couples. And they specifically noted that they didn't want any fatties.
And this is, you know, a great scandal. Roger is forced to resign from the Dole campaign. This forces Roger out of the mainstream of the Republican Party and has huge ripple effects both for Roger and subsequently for the country. But Roger also may have been dirty tricked in this scandal being unveiled through the National Enquirer because just a few weeks earlier, Dick Morris, who was a political consultant for the Clinton campaign, has his own sex scandal around toe sucking from prostitutes. And it seems less coincidental that Roger may have been unmasked as a swinger in retaliation for the Morris scandal and maybe to smooth that over, at least for there to be a tit-for-tat in the media so that both scandals would be left to the side.
DAVIES: He has a tattoo on his back. Tell us about this.
PEHME: Between Roger's shoulder blades he has a giant tattoo of Richard Nixon's face. And Roger gives different reasons for having this tattoo. Sometimes he says it's just to infuriate liberals, but what he says in our film is that Nixon for him represents resiliency, that Nixon again and again was knocked down in his career and yet he would rise from the ashes and be stronger than ever before. Roger sees this as his own story, that Roger - just like because of the swinger scandal, that a lot of people, that would have been the end of their career. Roger's been knocked down many times, but he always gets up from the mat and he keeps fighting. And that's one of the characteristics that Roger most prizes in himself.
DAVIES: In the film, you pay a visit to Stone's home in Florida. And I thought we'd just hear a little bit of Stone introducing you to his Florida home.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GET ME ROGER STONE")
STONE: Florida is a great place to live. It's a sunny place for shady people. Welcome to Casa del Stone. This is where I live with my wife, three cats and three dogs and my 91-year-old mother. Tough as nails. If you ever saw "The Sopranos" and you're familiar with Tony's mother, that's my mother. These guys are liberal filmmakers. They cannot be trusted. Come here, Sam. Sammy is - he's not well. He's been losing weight. We've been taking him back and forth to the vet. Come here, baby. Give me a kiss. Give me a kiss. No kiss? No kiss? This is the designated smoking area, kind of a contemplative garden.
PEHME: What do you contemplate out here, Roger?
STONE: Political strategy and destroying my enemies.
DAVIES: And that is Roger Stone from the documentary "Get Me Roger Stone," co-directed by our guest, Morgan Pehme. Well, a lot of Roger Stone in that clip. You know, one of the journalists in the film says he tries not to spend too much time around Stone because he's so charming, and he doesn't want to be charmed by him. Did you find him charming?
PEHME: You know, my co-directors, Dan and Dylan, and I, we very much enjoyed spending time with Roger. He is extremely well-read. He's thoughtful. He is a great raconteur. And when you see him with this family, he's rather delightful. His wife is a lovely person. He has a great relationship with his daughter and his grandchildren. But, you know, of course, that never blinded us to who Roger is and how his deeds have shaped our country in our opinion, you know, much for the worse. And - but, you know, one of the great experiences that we had over this five and a half years of making this film is that Dan and Dylan and I were compelled to spend a lot of time with people whose worldview was anathema to our own.
And I think that's very valuable, something that's lacking in - for most of us that, you know, whether if we're Democrats, we look at Republicans like they're on another planet and vice versa. But because we spent so much time with people on the absolute opposite side of the spectrum, it compelled us to see them more as people. And we wanted to show that Roger is not just this mustache-twirling villain, despicable person that, you know, people love to berate him on Twitter. And certainly, he writes things on Twitter that are utterly deserving of people's ire. But if you got to know Roger, he's not the person who is easy to hate in just a very personal or intimate setting.
DAVIES: Well, you know, in the clip we just heard, he's kidding with his mother about these liberal filmmakers. And then he's kissing his little dog. And then he says he's contemplating destroying his enemies. It's all there. The other thing that's striking about the interviews that you have with him are his clothes and his personal style. You want to just give us a taste of that?
PEHME: Yes. Roger dresses with what he calls sprezzatura. And he is - he's an incredible aficionado of fashion. His closet is endless suit after suit after suit. He's got a wall of ties. You know, Roger is a bodybuilding pot smoking dandy swinger, which is one of the reasons why we want to make a movie about him in the first place because we felt that even people who weren't interested in politics would be interested in watching a movie about this incredibly unique and eccentric character.
Some people say that Roger dresses like a Batman villain. And Roger uses his wardrobe to stand out. He says in our film that you have to be outrageous to get noticed. He uses that to great effect. And his over-the-top style makes sure that in any room all eyes go directly to Roger.
DAVIES: Yeah. There's one scene where you're interviewing him. It looks like it's on a rooftop. And he's wearing this three-piece suit, this gorgeous coat draped over shoulders and pulls out a huge cigar, lights it up and then pontificates. It's quite a picture. I read that he threatened harm to you if he didn't like how the film came out. I don't know if this was true. It was good-natured. Tell us the story.
PEHME: Many times, Roger would say to us that he hoped that the movie would end with a montage of all the times he threatened to kill me and Dan and Dylan if he didn't like how the film turned out. We didn't end up going that creative direction, but there were certainly ample material that we could have cut together something like that. And we think that he made these threats only half-jokingly.
We were certainly aware of the fact that Roger has a long track record of destroying people that he doesn't like and that he could turn his venom on us. But at the same time, he used it to endear himself in a bizarre way to us. And we're relieved that we are all still on the planet and Roger hasn't gone through with his threats. And he has told journalists that he thinks our movie is both a masterpiece and a triumph. We're not sure exactly what to make of that, but we are relieved that we can come home to our families.
DAVIES: Morgan Pehme's new film "Get Me Roger Stone" is available on Netflix. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF RATATAT'S "TACOBEL CANNON")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with filmmaker Morgan Pehme. He co-directed a new documentary about the political consultant and adviser to Donald Trump, Roger Stone. It's called "Get Me Roger Stone," and it's available on Netflix. When you started speaking to Roger Stone years ago, he was kind of a marginal figure in American politics, known to insiders. And then this long-held dream that Donald Trump would wage a credible presidential campaign happens. What do we know of Stone's role in getting the Trump for president campaign going?
PEHME: Well, we thought that Roger's life would be a unique lens to give a retrospective look at the last 40 years of Republican politics and how the party had changed and metastasized into the form that it is now. But Roger was always pushing this idea of running for the presidency. He really tried in 2012 to get Trump to run. And Trump came very close, according to Roger. But after the '12 cycle, Trump thought about it more and more.
And then Roger led a three-man team with Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and one of Stone's own proteges, Sam Nunberg, that laid the groundwork for the Trump campaign. And that was an operation that went for about a year and a half before Trump formally announced his campaign. It had a lot to do with cultivating the Tea Party across the country, getting Trump to have more of a national presence with the grassroots. And it was, you know, this kind of shadowy, exploratory committee that Roger led. And so from day one, Roger was at the helm of the Trump campaign. And once it formally announced, he continued to be kind of the chief strategist for the campaign.
DAVIES: So he - Trump launches his campaign, and Stone is there as an adviser in some respect. And then at some point in the summer, he departs from a campaign. What happened?
PEHME: Well, Roger claims that he quit the campaign. Trump claims that he fired him. You know, it's unclear what happened. Neither Trump, nor Roger have a great track record of truth-telling. So it's hard to discern what actually transpired. What I think it was was a clashing of egos. And when Trump was - even though Trump had surged to the top of the polls, a lot of the limelight was on Roger. I remember that Dan and Dylan and I had seen the cover story about Trump in Newsweek. And when we opened up the story, there was just Roger's name everywhere. And we were like, wow, Roger's going to get fired because nobody could take the limelight from Trump. You know, it had to be the Trump show. And it was too much the Roger show.
And shortly after that article came out, Roger was in some way ousted from the campaign. But because he was formally ousted from the campaign, that didn't mean that he didn't continue to have extraordinary influence with Trump. What's so amazing about Trump is what a small nucleus of advisers he has, that although he's had this multinational humongous corporation for years, he really just has a small orbit of advisers. And Roger is one of the people that Trump trusts the most.
And Roger, you know - of all the people that we met who knew Trump over the years, only Roger and Paul Manafort would call Trump Donald as opposed to Mr. Trump. And that spoke to the intimacy of their relationship. And so, you know, Trump knows that Roger will always give him an unvarnished opinion. Roger is an avid memo writer. And he writes these memos to Trump in, I think, in big font, in bullet points. He keeps them to one page. He knows how to communicate with Trump in vocabulary and in a message that Trump will understand and take to heart. And so I believe that Roger is and will always be indispensable to Donald Trump.
DAVIES: So what did Stone do for the Trump campaign? Do we know?
PEHME: We don't know exactly what Roger did with the campaign, but we do know that he gets his - a firm foothold back in it when Paul Manafort takes over as the campaign chairman from Corey Lewandowski. Obviously, Paul Manafort is one of Roger's oldest friends, one of his oldest associates. And as he says with glee in our movie when Manafort takes the reins - a journalist who knows Roger well says that Roger's back in the saddle. And so Roger certainly had very important influence in the campaign throughout when we were with him at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Roger was very much the belle of the ball.
And so for the rest of the campaign, Roger is clearly influencing the course, but to what degree he's, you know, making day-to-day decisions is unclear. But what is absolutely manifest is that Roger's opinion is valued and that he is having input in how things are unfolding.
DAVIES: OK, now Roger Stone is of interest to investigators who are looking into the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian nationals. He's scheduled to testify, I believe, before the Senate intelligence committee. What do we know about what Stone did or said he did or may have done with respect to things like leaked emails regarding the Democratic National Committee?
PEHME: Well, my co-directors and I know that Roger was trying to get in touch with Julian Assange from WikiLeaks. But we can't say for certain that he ever connected with him. And there's a lot - have been said that Roger prognosticated things to come through his tweets, that he said that Podesta - John Podesta from the Clinton campaign - his time would soon be in the barrel. And then, subsequently, Podesta's emails were released.
But Roger also put out a lot of tweets that were proven to be erroneous. So, you know, it's unclear to what degree Roger was just putting out stuff and seeing what would stick so that he could subsequently claim credit for foresight, or whether he really had advanced knowledge, through Assange or any other party, of how there was going to be meddling in the election.
DAVIES: Why did you want to make this film?
PEHME: You know, when Dan, and Dylan and I first found out about Roger Stone, we thought that his life was an extraordinary lens to talk about how our politics has transformed since Watergate and that we could trace the degradation of our politics through Roger's deeds and misdeeds. And Roger is such an incredibly colorful, over-the-top character that we felt that he could draw in people who weren't even interested in politics to hear a story that was enormously important in understanding our politics.
That's what got us on the trail with Roger, but we never would have expected that it would end with Roger at the apex of his extraordinary life and career, having completed his 29-year-old - what seemed like a quixotic quest to elect Donald Trump to the presidency.
DAVIES: There's an amazing moment in the film where, at the Republican convention, as Donald Trump finishes his speech, Roger Stone is in one of the booths and he is standing, giving the Nixon salute. Just connecting the thread.
PEHME: Yeah, Roger loves to give the Nixon victory fingers. He does so at most of his political appearances. I'm not sure for, you know, younger generations, whether that even has any resonance anymore.
But it's kind of Roger giving the finger to everybody who associates the Nixon fingers with what is the darkest and most embarrassing chapter of American politics. Roger embraces that and is only too happy to continue to use that iconography to his own effect.
DAVIES: Well, Morgan Pehme, it's been interesting. Thanks so much for speaking with us.
PEHME: Thank you so much, Dave.
DAVIES: Morgan Pehme co-directed the film "Get Me Roger Stone" with Dylan Bank and Daniel DiMauro. It's available on Netflix. Coming up, Justin Chang reviews the new film "The War For The Planet Of The Apes." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS MCGREGOR'S BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH'S "ANDROMEDA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.