It is the Wednesday after the midterms, and comedian and longtime New York political stuntman Randy Credico is smoking an e-cigarette at the Friars Club bar, expounding on his theory that the president of the United States is addicted to crystal meth.
“The guy is tweeting out stuff at like three o’clock in the morning,” he tells anyone who would listen. “When I was doing cocaine and drinking at the three in the morning, I would be doing that.” He is wearing a green tie that comes about midway down his torso, a rumpled sport coat, stained blue pants, and glasses perched on top of his head.
Credico is with a bunch of other comics to do a Friars program featuring both stand-up and some discussion about comedy in the Age of Trump. But hanging over his remarks and presence at the club that evening is that fact that he’s a lot more than a guy cracking jokes about President Donald Trump — Credico, a 64-year-old stand-up comedian and self-described political gadfly, has emerged as a key figure in Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.
In September, Credico was subpoenaed by Robert Mueller to appear before a grand jury and questioned about his associations with Roger Stone, one of Trump’s longest-serving advisers. Then on Friday, Stone was arrested during a dawn raid at his Florida home, after he was indicted for allegations that he obstructed the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and for trying to intimidate Credico into lying as well.
“I’m not talking to the FBI, and if your [sic] smart you won’t either,” Stone wrote to Credico, according to the indictment, advising Credico to do a “Frank Pentangeli,” in reference to The Godfather II Mafia capo who tells a congressional hearing, “I never knew no Godfather,” and who when pressed says he was coerced by FBI investigators.
“You are a rat, a stoolie,” Stone later wrote to him. “You backstab your friends — run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds,” adding later that he would take Credico’s therapy dog, Bianca, away from him. “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die.”
But in a sense, this is nothing totally new for Stone and Credico — they have been in an on-again, off-again love-hate relationship for over 15 years. As it happens, as the 2016 presidential election was heating up, it was back on for the two of them.
In October 2016, Stone tweeted: “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks”; also that “Libs thinking Assange will stand down are wishful thinking. Payload coming #Lockthemup.” Two days later Julian Assange and WikiLeaks released the first batch of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — a hack that seems to have been part of an election tampering plot by the Kremlin.
What explains Roger Stone’s apparent prescience? When asked by the media, Stone at first said his source was “a good mutual friend” of both himself and Assange. Stone now says his information about the WikiLeaks dump came from Credico — who is indeed a friend (of sorts, anyway) of both men. In practical terms, that means Credico is at the dead center of Mueller’s probe: If Stone was actively in the loop on what was happening inside WikiLeaks, and communicated that to Trump, it certainly would appear to constitute collusion. If Credico was indeed the source of that information to Stone, things suddenly look more benign (relatively, anyhow).
According to Credico, Stone calling him his WikiLeaks source is “a complete lie.” Credico says his only interaction with Assange before the election was to have him on his radio show on New York’s progressive WBAI, something that his friend and lawyer Margaret Ratner Kunstler helped set up. Credico also had Stone on his program, where he publicly asked Stone who his WikiLeaks back channel was and Stone refused to tell him. When Credico appeared before the Senate and House intel committees, he took the Fifth, although he says he will set the record straight the next time he appears before them. He told me that he repeated the story of his limited interactions with Assange to Robert Mueller’s grand jury. (On the subject of Stone’s arrest, Credico texted on Friday morning: “I have been gagged by my lawyers.”)
Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, said that if Credico in fact was the conduit between Stone and Assange, that he could be in legal jeopardy. It would be, he said, like the person who introduced bank robbers to a locksmith.
“Credico is like the comic relief in the second act,” he said. “He is a bit player. He is more of a bit player than George Papadopoulos, and that is hard to achieve.”
As for the accusations and counter-accusations of lying, Rosenzweig said, “It certainly seems as if Mr. Mueller has taken the side of Randy Credico. Roger Stone boasts about lying. He is a terrible witness. Not that Credico is that great. I am entirely comfortable with a story that says they are both assholes.”
That star turn as a witness in front of the grand jury just “was my last gig,” Credico told the audience at the Friars that November evening. “The grand jury was great. I actually did an impression for them. I did my Al Sharpton for them.” His voice lowered to a growl — part Baptist preacher, part Howlin’ Wolf. “Ah want fii twenty dollah bills.” Even the comedians onstage groaned.
“Robert Mueller was willing to recuse himself that afternoon,” said one.
Credico joked that he was responsible for Hillary Clinton losing since he handed her a map without Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania on it; he did his Andrew Cuomo impression, his Bernie Sanders, his Ronald Reagan (twice), and then walked off the stage.
Credico has spent the better part of three decades as something of a fringe figure in New York politics — a cross between “The Rent Is Too Damn High” guy, the Naked Cowboy, and Samuel Gompers. He has run for the Senate, for mayor, and for governor, never getting more than 4 percent of the vote. He slept out in the cold during Occupy Wall Street, attended a session of the New York State Senate dressed as the Greek philosopher Diogenes, smoked a joint on the steps of the State Capitol in Albany to protest the Rockefeller Drug Laws, and has been tossed out of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner for screaming about Julian Assange at the CNN table.
It remains an article of faith among Credico and his friends that the only reason he’s not a household name is that, during his first appearance on The Tonight Show in 1984, he committed the cardinal sin of impersonating Johnny Carson. Carson responded by not inviting Credico over to the couch for a conversation after his bit — or back on the program ever again. Instead of fame and lucrative stand-up specials, the decades since have been filled with bit work — including a gig as a voice actor on a reboot of the cult children’s TV classic H.R. Pufnstuf.
“I am hoping he can get something out of this political stuff. I am hoping he can benefit off of it in some way,” said Marty Krofft, the 81-year-old producer of H.R. Pufnstuf, who, on the phone from Los Angeles while in the waiting room of his dentist, said that he considered Credico a surrogate son and was trying to arrange meetings with CNN’s Jeff Zucker and MSNBC’s Phil Griffin on Credico’s behalf. “All of this can be a positive stepping stone,” said Krofft. “I know Jeff, I know Phil. Maybe he can get on one of those shows as a regular. I told him, ‘You are on the upswing right now. This is your time. Ya gotta go for it!’”
A few weeks later, I am sitting in Credico’s silver Mini Cooper on a street in the West Village. He is chain-smoking his e-cigarette, blasting classical music on the radio, demanding that I delete the last 20 minutes of our interview because I had overheard him talking to his lawyer about how he had to testify again before the grand jury the following week, and threatening to end his sobriety and go to the nearest bar to drink himself to oblivion if I don’t.
“I have been doing this for a whole fucking year now, a whole fucking year!” he screams about the Mueller investigation. He points to the coffee shop across the street where we were supposed to meet. “I can’t even go in there because people think I helped Trump win. Do you understand that?! Because people think I helped Trump win. I got threats from Stone’s friends out there who are organizing shit against me. I got an offer from every reporter in the world! I am supposed to go on Chris Cuomo’s show tonight. I am not even supposed to be talking about this.”
A week after his night at the Friars, Roger Stone released a series of text-message exchanges he had with Credico on the eve of the 2016 election in which Credico appeared to boast of having information on when Julian Assange would release pilfered batches of emails related to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“Big news Wednesday,” Credico wrote to Stone on October 1, 2016. “Now pretend u don’t know me.”
“U died five years ago,” Stone responded.
“Great. Hillary’s campaign will die this week,” responded Credico.
It went on in this vein, the two bragging, puffing each other up, talking in dark tones about political skullduggery. “You are an inveterate liar everybody knows that,” Credico writes at one point. “You ain’t exactly George Washington yourself,” responded Stone. (Credico says that the text messages are taken out of context, and that he was simply referencing already public pronouncements from Assange about the email trove.)
If Credico was on edge in the car, it was in part because he is Randy Credico (“I love him,” said Sarah Kunstler, a longtime friend. “But let’s face it, he can kind of be a lot.”), and in part because he had once again been called to Washington to testify before the grand jury. “He is a rat. He is just a super fucking rat that will do anything to survive,” Credico said of Stone, as a sweatshirt used as a makeshift scarf remained tight around his neck. “I wish I never had to deal with him.”
The history between the two is long, stretching over a decade and a half, mostly at the margins of the political world. They would fight over crumbs — over who would run on which minor party line — only to reconcile and then fall out again. And again and again and again, Stone, the ruthless political operative with the dyed-blond hair and the Nixon tattoo on his back, would get the better of Credico, the scrappy, needy, earnest son of a nightclub owner. While in some sense, the scrap between the two of them over WikiLeaks, Assange, and the 2016 election is just another in a long series, it is safe to say that the political stakes of this one — perhaps even with implications for Donald Trump’s presidency — are considerably higher than any of the others.
Stone and Credico met in 2002. Tom Golisano, a Rochester-area billionaire, was running for governor of New York, and Stone served as a senior adviser. Stone is blessed with a remarkable ability to endear himself to very rich people making (often) quixotic bids for public office; Credico shares some of that too — at the Friars he was accompanied by Bill Samuels, who has spent millions of dollars on reforming the way Albany operates — but lives more of a hand-to-mouth existence. Credico’s father did eight and a half years in prison before Credico was born, for what Credico calls “small-time Italian mob stuff in the ’30s,” prior to opening up a club, the Royal Tahitian, in Ontario, Canada. Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin, Sonny and Cher all played there, and it gave Credico a taste for show business.
“I wanted to be this big guy,” he says in a documentary made about his life. “I wanted to, you know, be loved.”
Credico has struggled with substance abuse most of his life, but he credits his decision to get involved in drug reform — a consistent focus in his long career as an activist — to a time he holed up in a motel in Florida for several days trying to get clean. On the TV came the story of Anthony Papa, the owner of an auto body shop who was doing 15-to-life for being asked by an undercover cop to deliver a few ounces of cocaine to someone else.
“I felt like I had dodged a bullet, because I’d violated those laws a million times but never came close to being arrested,” Credico once told the New York Times. “If I were black or Latino I’d be in prison right now.”
In 2002, New York was still fighting the drug war, and Credico convinced Golisano to distinguish himself from rivals George Pataki and Carl McCall by calling for a less punitive approach. He ended up with a respectable 14 percent on a third-party line, and afterward the drug-reform effort began to go mainstream. Andrew Cuomo, fresh off his own disastrous run for governor, joined Russell Simmons in a new effort to end the Rockefeller Drug Laws. They got a formal audience with Pataki. Gradually, the laws began to change.
Al Sharpton was then thinking of running for president, and Credico got involved, hoping it would be a vehicle to take the drug-reform conversation national. He introduced Stone to the civil-rights leader, and Stone, according to Credico, saw it as an opportunity to “rat-fuck” the Democrats by boosting a controversial African-American preacher. Stone became a leading strategist in the race, even joining Sharpton onstage for a “Road to Fairness” drug-law-reform rally in midtown with Cuomo and Simmons. Credico’s role in the campaign evaporated.
“I got pushed out,” Credico says. “I thought it was going to be a joint thing, we were going to talk about the drug laws. Next thing I know I was on the outs.”
And so it would go for Stone and Credico for the better part of 16 years — periods of conspiring to overturn the existing political order followed by bitter fallings-out and recriminations.
“We are like an old vaudeville routine,” Stone told me. “What was the great Neil Simon play? The Odd Couple? That’s us. We fight like cats and dogs and the we have dinner and smoke cigars and everything is fine again. Randy can be very entertaining. He can be exhausting too, sure — but hey, being with me ain’t exactly a day at the beach either.”
Their relationship hit a rough patch in 2007, when someone left a message at 10 p.m. on the answering machine of Bernard Spitzer, then-governor Eliot Spitzer’s 87-year-old father, threatening the elderly Spitzer that he was going to be arrested and dragged to Albany to testify about supposedly shady campaign donations he had made to his son.
“And there is not a goddamn thing your phony, psycho piece-of-shit son can do about it,” the caller said. “Bernie, your phony loans are about to catch up with you. You will be forced to tell the truth, and the fact that your son’s a pathological liar will be known to all.”
Private investigators traced the call to Stone, and he was fired from his job advising Republican lawmakers in Albany. But Stone said it was Credico imitating his voice, a story he stands by more than a decade later. “Randy is a genius impressionist,” Stone says, a view not shared universally. (“Randy is the worst impressionist I have ever heard,” said Frank Morano, a radio host who has run in some of the same political circles as Stone and Credico. “Have you heard his Richard Nixon impression? I sound more like Richard Nixon, talking to you now, without even trying to sound like Richard Nixon, than Randy Credico’s Richard Nixon sounds like Richard Nixon.”)
Still, the two had reconciled by the next year when Stone was advising Scott Rothstein, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who started a Ponzi scheme selling fake legal settlements to wealthy investors, to fund a lifestyle that included an opulent mansion with gold-plated toilets. Rothstein wanted to become a political player too, and got behind Al Lamberti, a Republican sheriff appointed after a corruption scandal felled the incumbent.
Stone enlisted Credico to record robo-calls posing as the kind of political leaders voters in Democratic-heavy Broward County would want to hear from. He did his Bill Clinton, his Sharpton, his Ed Koch — in the car he demonstrated Hizzoner’s famous honk — urging people to vote for Lamberti over Democrat Scott Israel. Despite Democrats holding a more than two-to-one voter-registration edge, in a year in which Barack Obama was on the ballot, Lamberti won.
The next year, Credico decided to run for the Senate against Chuck Schumer, pledging to stay sober for the entire campaign and hatching the campaign slogan, “Which candidate would you rather smoke a joint with? Credico or Schumer?” (He ended up getting knocked off the ballot.)
At the time, Stone was also running the campaign of Kristin Davis, the “Manhattan Madam,” who, Stone claimed, provided Spitzer with call girls. He created something called the “Anti-Prohibition Party” for her to run on, and tried to get Credico to join it. Credico did, but also ran on the Libertarian line — he ended up getting fewer than 25,000 votes, but the move enraged Stone, who wanted those votes on his line to make the Anti-Prohibition Party a permanent presence on the state ballot.
Stone then let it be known on social media that Credico was “dead.” It was a frequent riposte between the two, one that, according to Stone, meant that Credico was “dead to me.” Still, it sent Credico, who was visiting Berkeley at the time, into a state of panic when he says friends started calling him leaving concerned messages on his voicemail.
Determined to get back at Stone, Credico received an invitation from a Florida-based strategist to switch sides and help Scott Israel. Israel was again running for sheriff against Lamberti, who, the email said, was still receiving help from Stone. Credico eagerly signed on, doing the same kind of robo-call work he did before — Koch, Clinton, Sharpton impressions. Only later, he says, did he learn that the email was a fake, that in fact Stone had quietly switched sides too and was also working for Israel.
“It’s just so many fucking lies with that guy,” Credico says from the front seat of his car, where a library copy of Somerset Maugham’s fictional retelling of the story of Machiavelli sits on the dashboard. “It’s lies on top of lies, and somehow everybody believes him and somehow I end up the patsy.”
And so it went, on and on and on. Stone played in the political shadows, and Credico, who needed money and needed recognition, fought for acceptance, trusting Stone just long enough for Stone to get what he could out of Credico.
In 2013, Credico ran for office again, this time for mayor on the Libertarian line with, he thought, Stone’s blessing, only to see Stone organize an effort at the party convention to keep him off the ballot in order to benefit the Manhattan Madam, who was then running for city comptroller.
The two got into a screaming match at the hotel conference room where the city’s Libertarians gathered. “It was Randy yelling that this was a dirty trick, that Roger worked for Nixon, and Roger yelling that Randy was nothing but a cocksucker who wasn’t funny,” said one person who witnessed the dispute but didn’t want to be named to avoid irate late-night phone calls from any of those involved. “I mean, it’s the Libertarian convention of New York City. It’s not like this is really the center of New York City politics.”
Through Stone, Credico was introduced to Fred Dicker, a fiery statehouse columnist for the New York Post and Albany radio host. The three would meet up in Florida and smoke cigars while Dicker would work the phones, calling Cuomo and other New York political big shots and handing the phone over to Stone.
“They had this weird, symbiotic relationship,” recalls Dicker. “I think they both thought of politics more as theater, as performance. There was always this sad poignancy though to Randy, he has longing for acceptance and positive reinforcement about how talented he is.”
The symbiotic relationship extended to Dicker. Even though Dicker fashioned a role for himself as the right-wing pit bull of Albany, Credico, whom Dicker described as an “anarcho-syndicalist,” was a frequent guest on his radio show, where Dicker valued his impressions, but more importantly his willingness to take on the state’s Democratic Establishment from the left.
In 2014, Credico was on his way down to Mexico to get sober again, and when he turned on his phone he received a message from Stone that said simply, “Stay strong on this one.” Stone had planted a story with the Post that Credico had snorted cocaine at the back of a bar years earlier with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. (As an example of how far from the truth both men can stray, Credico told me that he publicly recanted the story soon after it ran, but that it was true. I was able to find no record of Credico’s recantation, but he still maintains that the story is true; Schneiderman consistently said it was not.)
That same year, Credico made yet another run for office, this time running for governor against Andrew Cuomo, although many liberal activists in the state were dismayed that he seemed willing to take votes away from Zephyr Teachout, who was mounting a serious challenge to the governor from the left.
The Democrats, Credico told me in the front seat of his Mini, are worse than the Republicans, as far as he is concerned, since they cast their support for an imperial foreign policy and a racist drug war in noble terms. “They are more loathsome,” he said. “They pretend to be something they are not.”
In 2016, he was originally a Bernie Sanders supporter, but only tacitly. Sanders didn’t talk enough about foreign policy. On his WBAI show, he boosted Jill Stein, even as Stone told people that Credico was starting a “Sanders Supporters for Trump” PAC. (Credico says he only told Stone that as a joke.) Stone was a regular on his radio show, and so was Assange.
Now Credico says he never thought Hillary would lose. “Trump was too easy to pick on. The guy was a fucking joke. No one took him seriously,” he says. “The lesson here is that there could be earthquake in the middle of Detroit even though there isn’t a fault line there. And the fault line is Hillary Clinton.”
It can be hard to know who or what to believe here. Seemingly the only irrefutable things Credico and Stone have said is that the other is a proven liar. So in this case, it is falling to Robert Mueller to tell fiction from fact.
Credico says that Stone deleted portions of the text messages to make him look bad, something Stone said is “bullshit,” but who knows? Credico says he gave his computer over to New Yorker writer Jennifer Gonnerman, who has in her possession a communication between him and Stone that would exonerate him. (A New Yorker spokesperson said, “We don’t discuss our reporting methods and sourcing, especially for stories we haven’t published. We do not have Randy Credico’s computer.”)
Credico also says the investigation is destroying his life. He complains of stomach pains, says he is sleeping in a safe house along the Brooklyn waterfront, fearful of Stone’s goons. He canceled our meetings multiple times. But he still keeps up a steady stream of media appearances, sitting for a long interview during a recent trip to California with a former RT reporter who now hosts her own YouTube show, and regularly updates his email list with his media appearances.
“How did a nice guy like me get stuck in a place like this?” he said in the car. Bianca, his Coton de Tulear therapy dog — the very one that Stone threatened to kill — was in the back seat. “What is a left-winger like me doing stuck in all of this? I am on the other side of the revolution. The accidental tourist. I am the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A California Yankee in King Trump’s Court, that’s it. You put your hand in a fucking swamp, just because you are a daredevil, and you might get bit by fucking alligator.”
He was a quiet for a minute, and then he started screaming again, his voice echoing off the windshield.
“I should have taken the Fifth all along,” Credico says. He is probably right. Lying to investigators has already felled most of the Trump circle who have been ensnared in Mueller’s investigation, and Stone has mounted a public-relations campaign, with selective leaks to right-wing outlets like the Daily Caller, painting Credico as a liar. “BOMBSHELL TEXT MESSAGES SUPPORT ROGER STONE’S CLAIMS ABOUT WIKILEAKS BACKCHANNEL,” read one headline.
Credico has been mostly concerned with the impression among his liberal friends that he helped elect Donald Trump. Even if he did tip off Stone to what Assange was up to, it is hard to see what his liability would be before the grand jury. But Mueller has ensnared people for all kinds of misdeeds, from lying to Congress to business deals long done. Once he calls you down to Washington, who knows what comes of it?
Credico swept his hand across his hair and tried to exhale. He couldn’t.
“Stone is such a fucking rat! He is going to do whatever dirty fucking tricks he can! I wish I never had to deal with him any more! I don’t want to deal with that guy! It’s been a year now. Enough already! Why do I have to keep talking to reporters about this fucking story! I want some fucking peace! When does it come to an end!”
The car was silent again for a moment.
“I am sorry I yelled. Either I yell or I start drinking.”