When political strategist Roger Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday, he wasn’t flanked by Big Law attorneys from Washington or New York. Instead, it was two South Floridians representing President Donald Trump’s longtime confidant.
Fort Lauderdale attorneys Grant Smith and Robert Buschel have each known Stone for more than a decade. They agreed to prepare the radio show and columnist to be grilled on what he knew about WikiLeaks’ release of hacked emails taken from the Democratic National Committee.
Smith, a solo practitioner, is a career-long government affairs lawyer who’s worked for Stone on book publishing and consulting contracts. Buschel is with the two-lawyer firm Buschel & Gibbons and brings a criminal defense and litigation background to Stone’s representation, which includes a civil case in the District of Columbia alleging Stone colluded with Russians to aid the Trump campaign.
The pair said the private hearing was a few hours shorter than expected. Stone was at the Capitol for three hours to answer every question lawmakers had, although he declined to reveal his source of information for comments he made last year about upcoming WikiLeaks releases.
Smith and Buschel sat down with the Daily Business Review in Fort Lauderdale two days after the hearing. Answers are edited for length and clarity.
How did you come to represent Roger Stone?
Buschel: We felt like with Roger, it’s best to have somebody that knows him well. He’s been around so long as a political provocateur, as he would say, that he could be asked questions about a wide variety of subject matters, from Nixon to the Brooks Brothers riot to whatever happened last week.
Smith: We look at some of the other people who are involved in this matter, and they’re some of the biggest of the bigs. It’s WilmerHale and Jones Day and some of the biggest firms in the world, and here we are, two practitioners from Fort Lauderdale.
It was a fascinating experience, because people have referred to this as the biggest political story in the last 50 years since Watergate. We have a front-row seat to the history of what’s happening.
Tell me about the preparation process for this hearing. How long have you been preparing and what does that entail?
Smith: We’ve been preparing since we got the letters back in April or May from the various committees in the Senate and House, gathering documentation and talking to our client.
Buschel: Reading a lot of news on both sides, from Breitbart to Rachel Maddow, just to kind of get a sense of the conversation.
Smith: You never know where you’re going to get a new piece of information that you have to ask your client about. It could come from anywhere.
We have a client who is out there in the public space all the time. Some of the other people in this matter, you haven’t heard from them. We have to pay particular attention every day to things that our client is saying.
Does he check with you first before he speaks publicly, or is he sort of a free spirit in that regard?
Smith: I think we check with him after.
Buschel: Sometimes. But that’s like asking a DBR reporter, “Are you going to be reporting today?” I mean, is he going to be writing something, saying something, being interviewed by someone? Yes, he is.
And to go “Well, what are you going to say today?” You can’t.
Smith: Because he is so out there in the public, he’s got a lot of people who tell him things all day long. There are people who will have good information that he listens to, and then he’ll research it and put it back out there.
And he hears this information before you?
Smith: Oh, yes. He gets information from a lot of sources in a journalistic capacity, and fans of his will provide him information.
The night before his testimony, we went to the Trump Hotel. Roger arranged to have drinks with some people after we had spent eight hours prepping. We went to the lobby bar, and he was like a rock star. He was constantly taking pictures, signing things, talking to people.
Buschel: We have different purposes than our client, who’s a political strategist. As a lawyer, I wish he would lock himself in a closet and say nothing. You want to contain the information; you want to contain what you have to deal with.
That’s unrealistic. “Don’t do your job, don’t be Roger Stone for the next six months” — it’s an impossible task.
But of course you always guide your client and tell him some of the legal implications he may not be aware of. Remember, he doesn’t have context. We all live in our own worlds, and most people don’t live in the congressional investigation/civil lawsuit arena.
Smith: In terms of the preparation, it was a lot of helping Roger work on his opening statement. Roger had been maligned by a lot of the folks in the process leading up to this, and he wanted to use it as a time for him to set the record straight: “You said this, but that’s not really what happened.”
Are there challenges to having nonlawyers on the House committee?
Buschel: You could tell who the lawyers were because their questions were more precise. Others assumed facts within their questioning or were making a political statement within the questioning.
You have to prepare your client for the different types of questions, too. What’s a direct question? What’s a leading question? What’s a question that assumes facts that you don’t agree with? How do you deal with them?
We’re not having a conversation. We’re having an interview, and your answers are important.
Smith: These congressmen and women are stretched to the maximum with things they’re dealing with. There’s no way they could know some of the things we know in the detail that we know it. That’s why it’s our responsibility to bring an apolitical, somber view of the facts as we know them, so that hopefully it gives context and helps them understand why our client is saying what our client is saying.
We prepared a list of over 100 questions that we believed he could be asked. We spent a fair amount of time going over those with him, and I think we were pretty spot-on.
If I can just set the scene for you: Here we are, whisked into the Capitol. Press is everywhere, inside, outside, on the stairs, down the stairs.
You go into a secure hallway that’s guarded by several police officers. The hearing was in a room that was behind a door that was probably about a foot thick. It had a combination lock in addition to a card swipe and a key pad.
I’m a huge fan of the play “Hamilton,” and I’ve listened to the sound track probably 50 times. “This is the room where it happens” — that’s a constant refrain in the play. This is where it happens. It’s humbling to see it.