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The Russia investigation has turned many once-obscure political figures into household names. One of those names you probably haven't heard is Randy Credico. He's a former radio host and liberal activist, and his relationship with Trump political adviser Roger Stone has drawn the interest of investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
NPR's Tim Mak has the story of an odd sideshow to the main Russia investigation circus.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: One month before the 2016 presidential election, WikiLeaks began publishing the hacked emails of Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta. Here's Clinton on an Australian news network after the election.
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HILLARY CLINTON: There was a concerted operation between WikiLeaks and Russia and most likely people in the United States to, as I say, weaponize that information.
MAK: Clinton supporters charge that one of these people in the United States was Trump confidant Roger Stone. In a tweet before the leak, Stone alluded to looming trouble for Podesta. But more recently, Stone told NPR that he was alluding to trouble generally, not revealing the future.
ROGER STONE: His emails became public, but I had no prior knowledge of that, nor did I predict it.
MAK: Even so, Stone told the House Intelligence Committee late last year that he did have an intermediary with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential election. He named left-wing radio host Randy Credico. Credico tells NPR he met Stone in the early 2000s, when their views aligned on a campaign to liberalize New York's drug laws.
RANDY CREDICO: I got into the campaign over a martini and a cigar with Roger Stone, which were the two things that we had in common. And so I maintained a relationship with the guy on and off, very rocky one, over the next 14, 15, 16 years, basically.
MAK: Through another contact that he wouldn't identify, Credico managed to get Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, on his radio show in August 2016. Afterwards, Credico says, Stone asked for help getting in touch with Assange. Credico insists he never helped connect the two.
CREDICO: I can tell you with complete confidence that nothing ever transpired between Stone and Julian Assange. People want to keep putting that out there, but, you know, it's just not true.
MAK: Now Stone denies to NPR that he told Congress that Credico was his intermediary. In 2017, Credico visited Assange three times in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where the WikiLeaks founder has been for six years, trying to avoid arrest by the British authorities.
CREDICO: I have a friendship with him, yes. He's become a friend of mine.
MAK: Despite his insistence that he was not a conduit for WikiLeaks during the election, Credico acknowledged to NPR that he has been a back channel for Assange since the election on at least one occasion. Credico claims that he has since brought a message from Assange to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff.
CREDICO: It said that, look, I have a message. If you request a meeting with Mr. Assange, he will accept.
MAK: The relationship between Stone and Credico has fallen apart since Stone named Credico as his back channel. Over the course of conversations with NPR, both Credico and Stone, independently and unprompted, accused each other of drug abuse. And Stone called Credico a liar and an obscenity not fit for broadcast. Here's Credico again.
CREDICO: He's a combination of Hannibal Lecter, Phantom of the Opera and Quasimodo. You know, he's like this big, like, you know, pile of evil that nobody likes.
MAK: A key question for investigators in the Russia imbroglio is whether any Americans had prior warning of WikiLeaks' actions. Here's Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.
MIKE QUIGLEY: There's a serious aspect to all of this, but there's a kind of an odd Barnum and Bailey aspect to it as well.
MAK: Investigators will have to brush past the circus atmosphere if they want to get to the heart of the answers they seek. Tim Mak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.