Emails Suggest Roger Stone, Not Steve Bannon, Masterminded Savage Trump Debate Stunt (Exclusive)

Who thought to bring Bill Clinton’s accusers to a presidential debate? It’s debatable

It’s become political legend that two days after the “Access Hollywood” video first surfaced, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, responded with one of the most brutal stunts of the 2016 campaign. But emails obtained by TheWrap suggest it may not have been Bannon’s idea after all.

Just before the Oct. 9 presidential debate with Hillary Clinton in St. Louis, where Trump’s “grab ‘em by the p—y” comments were sure to be the focus, Trump hosted a news conference with several women who had accused President Clinton of sexual misconduct. The plan was to rattle Hillary Clinton and shift scrutiny to her husband.

Trump advisors like the idea so much that they’re still arguing over who thought of it. Roger Stone, a master of political dirty tricks dating back to the Nixon administration, says it was actually his idea — and that emails obtained by TheWrap prove it.

The emails surfaced this week after conservative activist David Bossie appeared on Fox News and credited Bannon with the idea for bringing President Clinton’s accusers to the debate.

In one email, dated Aug. 19, 2016, Stone wrote to Bannon about several of President Clinton’s accusers: “Broaddrick, Willey, Jones, Shelton others ON BOARD. Once they get in the news cycle it would allow Trump to raise the issue without being the originator.”

“They could be called to stand up in the audience or showcased in debates,” he added. “They could join Trump at rallys [sic]”

Bannon responded a few hours later.

“Can u talk this morning?” he said.

Stone told TheWrap they did talk, and discussed the idea at length though a Bannon ally said Bannon had already thought of the idea, before Stone suggested it.

In another email, dated Sept. 23, Stone personally suggested putting “Juanita Broaddrick in the front row,” after news emerged that Trump adversary Mark Cuban might come as a guest of Team Clinton to the first debate. Broaddrick has accused Bill Clinton of raping here in 1978, while he was serving as Arkansas Attorney General.

The next day, Trump himself proposed a similar idea on Twitter — though it involved a different accuser of President Clinton.

A similar idea — to seat President Clinton’s accusers prominently in the Oct. 9 debate audience — was planned but thwarted at the last minute by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

“I suggested to Steve Bannon that the women be brought to a debate and he wisely executed the idea,” Stone told TheWrap, when asked about the emails. “Steve Bannon is a friend and I am simpatico with his mission. I give him credit for getting the idea implemented.”

The narrative that Bannon masterminded the stunt appears in Joshua Green’s book “Devil’s Bargain” and the new book “Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency” by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Bossie.

Bossie spoke to Fox News’ Martha Maccallum about the stunt on Tuesday as part of a book tour. “That was Steve Bannon’s [idea],” he said. “It was a brilliant stroke.”

Stone said Bossie may have been misinformed.

“Perhaps Dave doesn’t know the impetus for this idea,” said Stone who has also co-authored a book about Clinton abusers: “The Clintons’ War on Women” around the same time. “Perhaps he’s not lying, perhaps he thinks that Steve Bannon did it. That’s the most benign [explanation]. Perhaps he speaks out of ignorance.”

But Team Bannon pushed back. Though Bannon was unavailable for comment, Aaron Klein, the Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter for Breitbart, said Stone was full of it.

“The idea was conceived in conversations between Steve and myself in early August prior to Stone’s email,” he told TheWrap. “As early as May, we had brainstorming conversations about how to bring the issue of Clinton’s sexual assault victims and Hillary’s work in silencing those women into the national discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential election.”

As part of his portfolio for Breitbart, Klein worked extensively with multiple Clinton accusers, including Broaddrick, long before Stone’s August email.

In comments to TheWrap, Broaddrick did not deny the possibility that Stone may have originated the idea, but cast doubt on his suggestion that she was “on board” with anything in August.

“I’ve never even met the man. I’ve never even talked with the man. I’ve never had any dealings with the man,” she told TheWrap. “I received a call the day before the debate, a call from the Trump campaign” inviting her to appear, she said.

Broaddrick’s recollection of the call places it around the time when the “Access Hollywood” tape became public.