Roger Stone's trial could hang on a comedian's drunken texts

WASHINGTON — It was late in the evening of Oct. 1, 2016, and radio talk show host Randy Credico was at London’s Heathrow Airport doing what he sometimes did in those days: getting smashed. He ducked into a duty-free shop and stocked up on bottles of bourbon and Havana Club rum. He downed shots at the shop’s bar stand. Then, while aboard his flight back to New York and, as Credico recalls it “totally whacked,” he fired off some fateful texts to an improbable confederate: Roger Stone.

The text messages purported to be inside dope on the plans of one of Credico’s heroes, Julian Assange, to release damaging emails that could shake up the U.S. presidential election. They read: “big news Wednesday…now pretend u don’t know me...Hillary’s campaign will die this week.”

Those text messages are likely to be key exhibits in a courtroom when Stone, the flamboyant longtime political adviser to Donald Trump, goes on trial starting today on charges of obstruction, lying to Congress and witness tampering.

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Roger Stone through the years
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Political advisor Roger Stone poses for a portrait following an interview in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 03: Attorney Roy Cohn (c.) with Roger Stone (l.) and Mark Fleischman (r.). (Photo by Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City. Potential members of President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet have been meeting with him and his transition team over the last few weeks. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 21: Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater are young political operatives who have set up lobbying firms. (Photo By Harry Naltchayan/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 09: Roger J. Stone Jr. discusses and signs copies of his book 'The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ' at Books and Books on December 9, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21: Roger Stone, Ex-Donald Trump Advisor, talks with Jonathan Alter during an episode of Alter Family Politics on SiriusXM at Quicken Loans Arena on July 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 18: Political operative Roger Stone attends rally on the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on July 18, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. An estimated 50,000 people are expected in downtown Cleveland, including hundreds of protesters and members of the media. The convention runs through July 21. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
HILTON HOTEL MIDTOWN, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - 2016/07/16: Roger Stone attends Donald Trump introduction to Governor Mike Pence as running for vice president at Hilton hotel Midtown Manhattan. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 2002: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
American Ronald Reagan and Roger Stone at the Chrysler Plant, Detroit, Michigan, September 20, 1980. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - AUGUST 19: Roger Stone attends Roger Stone Exclusive Photo Session on August 19, 1987 at Alan Flusser Boutique in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
UNITED STATES - MAY 12: Portrait of Roger Stone (Photo by Pat Carroll/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
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As the one trial to grow out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that directly relates to the events of 2016, the proceedings promise to be a wild Washington drama with testimony from former Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, and possibly others from the president’s orbit. It also could shed light on one of the biggest mysteries of that year’s campaign: exactly what did Stone, and his allies in the Trump campaign, know about the avalanche of emails hacked by Russian intelligence from the Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that Assange started releasing just one week after those text messages from Credico.

It is central to the prosecutors’ case that, in 2017, Stone lied to Congress — and obstructed a House Intelligence Committee investigation into the Russia scandal — when he claimed that he had a backchannel “intermediary” to Assange, who tipped him off to what WikiLeaks had in store to torment the Clinton campaign. Stone at first identified his secret source as an unidentified “journalist.” He then later fingered that source to the committee as Credico, a comedian, impressionist and political activist who hosted a talk show on a left-wing New York radio station. Credico, in turn, denied Stone’s claims, calling them “ridiculous” and insisting that he knew nothing about what Assange planned to release.

But Credico’s text messages could give Stone’s lawyers material to chip away at the prosecutor’s case. Those messages “are a bad fact for the government,” said Sol Wisenberg, a criminal defense lawyer who once served as a prosecutor on independent counsel Ken Starr’s staff. “It indicates that [Credico] had — or pretended to have — news that he was giving to Stone.”

The text messages will put the spotlight on Credico, a potentially crucial witness who is expected to take the stand later this week. Prosecutors, Yahoo News has learned, have spent hours prepping him, urging him to lay off alcohol, and going over every aspect of his unlikely, up-and-down relationship with Stone.

It is a partnership of pranksters that has puzzled friends of both men for years. Stone is a notorious Republican operative who first got attention for his undercover hijinks for Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign and later worked as a lobbying partner of Paul Manafort, earning him a 1996 cover story in the New Republic under the headline, “The State of the Art Washington Sleazeball.”

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US President Donald Trump (L) congratulates Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House on January 22, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), is joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, as he speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2017. Jonathan Ernst: "Very early in the Trump administration, weekends were as busy as weekdays. On Trump's second Saturday the official schedule said he would be making private phone calls to a number of world leaders including Russia's Vladimir Putin. I arrived early and, before sitting down at my desk walked up to Press Secretary Sean Spicer's office. He, too, was just taking his coat off. I gingerly made the suggestion that previous administrations had sometimes allowed photos of such phone calls through the Oval Office windows on the colonnade. To my mild shock, he didn't even think about it twice. "We'll do it!" he said. In truth, I really only expected the Putin call, but we were outside the windows multiple times throughout the day as the calls went on."

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U.S. President Donald Trump talks to chief strategist Steve Bannon during a swearing in ceremony for senior staff at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 22, 2017.

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Trump advisers Steve Bannon (L) and Jared Kushner (R) listen as U.S. President Donald Trump meets with members of his Cabinet at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 12, 2017.

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Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (C) and campaign CEO Steve Bannon (R) listen to National Park Service Interpretive Park Ranger Caitlin Kostic (2nd R) on a brief visit to Gettysburg National Military Park in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 22, 2016.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

U.S. President Donald Trump signs a memorandum to security services directing them to defeat the Islamic State in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017. Pictured with him are White House senior advisor Steve Bannon (L-R), National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, Vice President Mike Pence, Deputy National Security Advisor K. T. McFarland, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, National Security Council Chief of Staff Keith Kellogg and senior advisor Kellyanne Conway.

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Trump advisor Steve Bannon (L) watches as US President Donald Trump greets Elon Musk, SpaceX and Tesla CEO, before a policy and strategy forum with executives in the State Dining Room of the White House February 3, 2017 in Washington, DC.

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Senior Advisor Jared Kusher, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and President Donald Trump arrive at the start of a meeting with Senate and House legislators, in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, February 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. Lawmakers included in the meeting were Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA).

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Credico couldn’t be more different. An avowed left-leaning comedian, he once appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” doing a dead-on impression of Ronald Reagan. He lionized and worked closely with radical lawyer William Kuntsler, defender of Weathermen, Black Panthers and other self-proclaimed revolutionaries.

Still, the two men bonded over a common cause: repeal of New York’s so-called Rockefeller drug laws, named for the state’s former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, which imposed draconian prison sentences for minor drug offenses. Stone and Credico glommed onto the 2002 gubernatorial campaign of an eccentric billionaire independent candidate, Tom Golisano, who vowed to repeal the drug laws. The two gadflies made commercials together and later plotted anti-drug law strategy with Credico enlisting Al Sharpton to work with the two of them.

They had their rifts over the years. In 2007, Stone was caught making a harassing, late-night phone call to the ailing father of then New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, threatening to reveal improper business loans. Faced with losing a lucrative consultant with Republican state senators, Stone blamed Credico for the phone call, claiming — falsely, according to Credico — that it was actually the comedian who called Spitzer’s father, imitating his voice. It was, Credico would later say, the first instance in which Stone tried to make him his “fall guy.”

But their temporary rupture at that time was nothing compared to the events that unfolded during the 2016 election. Starting that summer, Stone began making claims about his knowledge of political dynamite that Assange was set to unleash about Hillary Clinton. “I actually have communicated with Assange,” Stone told a Florida Republican group on Aug. 8, 2016. “I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation, but there’s no telling what the October Surprise may be.”

He then followed up with a widely noticed tweet on Aug. 21. “Trust me, it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel,” it read.

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Former special counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, is sworn in before he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, is sworn in before he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, checks pages in the report as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, accompanied by his top aide in the investigation Aaron Zebley, right, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, accompanied by his top aide in the investigation Aaron Zebley, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, accompanied by his top aide in the investigation Aaron Zebley, right, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., listens as former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, accompanied by his top aide in the investigation Aaron Zebley, listens to a question as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
A quote from the Muller report is displayed on a screen as former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Mueller's report on Russian election interference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, looks at papers as he questions former special counsel Robert Mueller during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller checks pages in the report as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, right, questions former special counsel Robert Mueller during the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. At left is Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas., asks questions to former special counsel Robert Mueller, as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify to the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller looks at notes as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. A line from Mueller's report is shown on the rear screen during the hearing. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. At left is Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and center is Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller, arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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All this got the attention of top Trump campaign operatives who according to newly released FBI documents from Mueller’s investigation, were desperate to find out what Assange actually had (and cared little that it might have originated with a Russian government operation). Trump himself took a phone call from someone whose name was redacted, telling him that “additional leaks” were coming, according to a report of an FBI interview with Gates, his former deputy campaign manager. A top Trump campaign official — widely believed to be Bannon — was directed to contact Stone to find out what he knew, according to Mueller’s indictment of Stone.

It is still not clear that Stone knew much of anything beyond some cryptic comments that Assange had himself made in June about incriminating material he had on Hillary Clinton. In late July, Stone contacted fellow conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi and asked him to “get to” Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy. (Corsi emailed back that “word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps” but he later denied he had any inside knowledge and was never charged by Mueller.) And Stone began making references to another “intermediary” who was a “mutual friend” of Assange and was telling him about WikiLeaks’ plans.

That “mutual friend” was Credico. And Stone could well have had reason to think Credico was plugged in. On Aug. 25, the WikiLeaks founder gave an interview Credico’s radio show via phone from London. Although Assange revealed nothing about WikiLeaks’ plans, Credico two days later sent Stone a text message: Assange “has kryptonite on Hillary.”

And then came those texts from the inebriated Credico on his flight back from London, the ones that claimed “Hillary’s campaign will die this week.” Credico in fact had tried to see Assange during his London trip but never made it into the Ecuadorian Embassy. (He was photographed standing outside.)

If he knew nothing about what Assange was up to, why did he send Stone those texts? “I don’t know why I put that out there,” Credico said in an interview with Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast last December. “Assange had been teasing he was doing something in the first week of October and it was unlucky for me to send that to [Stone], joking with him.”

Credico’s “joke” didn’t end there. The next day, Stone texted him “WTF?” after he read an article claiming that WikiLeaks was cancelling a “highly anticipated” announcement for that Tuesday “due to security concerns.” Credico fired back, confidently: “head fake.”

All this was enough for Stone to start alerting his friends in Trump world that something big was coming. “Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming,” he wrote on Oct. 3 to a Trump supporter who was active in the campaign. And the next day, a top Trump campaign official got in touch asking about what WikiLeaks was about to unload. WikiLeaks, Stone wrote back, would soon release “a load every week going forward.”

It was a prescient message: On Oct. 7, less than an hour after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, WikiLeaks began dumping the Podesta emails — with embarrassing details about the Clinton Foundation and other matters — and continued the releases for the rest of the campaign.

But Credico’s prank — if that indeed what it was — began to get distinctly unfunny a year later when the House Intelligence Committee began pursuing him to see if he would back up Stone’s story that he was his WikiLeaks backchannel. Stone gave Credico what was for him classic advice: “Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan…Richard Nixon,” he texted him on Nov. 19, 2017.

On Dec. 1, 2017, Stone told him to do a “Frank Pentangeli” — a Mafia character in “The Godfather II” who testified before a Senate committee and denied what he had previously told the FBI. (Prosecutors want to show a clip of the movie at Stone’s trial, but U.S. Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied the request, saying they can show the jury a transcript instead.)

At that point in the story, this reporter plays a minor role. In late 2017 and early 2018, as I was finishing up “Russian Roulette,” a book about the Russia scandal that I co-authored with David Corn, I tracked down Credico after learning that Stone was claiming the comedian was his backchannel. After several nights of drinks at his favorite downtown New York oyster bar, he agreed to go on the record and told me he knew nothing about what Assange was planning and therefore couldn’t have been Stone’s intermediary. When I went back to Stone for comment as the book was nearing publication, the GOP operative was enraged and began sending threatening text messages to Credico, implying that things could get ugly for the comedian and his beloved service dog, Bianca. “You are a rat. A stoolie. You backstab your friends-run your mouth my lawyers are dying Rip you to shreds,” Stone wrote. And then, Stone wrote, he would “take that dog away from” him and “prepare to die [expletive].”

Those texts earned Stone an extra count in Mueller’s indictment for witness tampering. They also helped earn Credico his trip to the witness stand this week where his testimony could ultimately determine the fate of his erstwhile friend.

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