Judge expands Roger Stone’s gag order
Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Thursday dramatically restricted Roger Stone’s ability to speak publicly about his case after he published an Instagram post with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun drawn behind her head.
Stone may now not speak publicly about the investigation or the case or any participants in the investigation or the case.
“Period,” Jackson said.
The development will in effect silence one of the most outspoken and politicized former advisers of President Donald Trump, as Stone fights against special counsel Robert Mueller in a case related to his interactions in 2016 with Russians and the Trump campaign.
Jackson made her revision to her previous court order that had prevented Stone from speaking in and around the courthouse. Jackson’s new mandate came swiftly and sternly in a court hearing in which Stone got tripped up by his own story and apologies.
Four days ago, Stone had posted then removed a photo of Jackson on Instagram that had crosshairs — or what Stone called a “Celtic cross” — behind her head. His lawyers had drawn up a written apology to Jackson Monday, which Stone said he signed but did not write. That’s when Jackson ordered him to court, prompting Stone to fly in from Florida to Washington, DC, Thursday morning.
His defense counsel kicked off the hearing by having Stone reiterate his apology — this time under oath, from the witness box. But as soon as Jackson jumped in to question Stone, he began to contradict his explanations for the post and for his remorse.
Jackson said she did not believe his testimony, and believed he understood how inflammatory the image he posted was, especially among his followers.
“Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols. There’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs.”
“What he chose,” she said, “had a more sinister message.”
“In the world of social media, there’s no such thing as a take-back,” she added.
Ultimately, Jackson said Stone from now on could issue no more statements on the radio, no press releases, no blogs, no media interviews, no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat posts about the case, which has drawn him several interviews and media attention since his January 25 arrest. No statements can be made on his behalf by spokespersons, family members or even “many volunteers,” either, Jackson said, citing some of the people around him whom Stone tried to say found the offensive photo and had access to his cell phone.
As he listened to the judge tighten his speech restrictions, Stone closed his eyes, leaning back with his head in his hands. Several times, he attempted to argue his side over the judge’s questioning, or grimaced, gestured broadly and licked his lips while he spoke.
His time on the witness stand had not gone smoothly, and Jackson had grown impatient with his imprecise and changing answers as testimony.
At one point, Stone tried to explain that he didn’t select the image with the crosshairs for any particular reason — that it was random, and he wasn’t thinking what it could mean. On the same day, prosecutors pointed out at the hearing, Stone criticized the judge and spoke about his case to the media, including on the conservative radio show “Infowars,” and even claimed the media had unfairly targeted him because of the post.
Still, he offered a full mea culpa to Jackson in court. “I don’t offer any rationalization or excuse or justification. This is just a stupid lack of judgment,” Stone testified in the dramatic 90-minute hearing in a packed courtroom.
“I regret it,” the longtime Republican political operative and self-described “dirty trickster” added. Jackson did not accept Stone’s explanation, at one point using air quotes when she said the word “apologize.”
“Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow,” she said.
“No, Mr. Stone, I’m not giving you another chance,” she added.
If Stone violates her order again, Jackson said, he could be detained.
“This is not baseball,” she added. “There will not be a third chance.”
Stone did not comment to reporters upon leaving the courthouse. He is currently out on bail and able to travel in and around Washington, New York City and in South Florida, where he lives.
Stone testified that a volunteer working for him had downloaded the picture of Jackson, but he himself wrote the post and published it. He said he did not know who the person was — no one among his bevy of helpers would confess to finding the photo, which appeared to come from a conspiracy website, nor could he remember who his helpers were on Monday, he testified.
The first post was a picture of Jackson with what appeared to be the crosshairs of a gun drawn behind her head. Stone’s caption called special counsel Robert Mueller a “Deep State hitman,” said his case was a “show trial” and implied that Jackson was biased as an Obama appointee and because she had ruled on a Benghazi-related case and “incarcerated Paul Manafort.” “#Fixisin,” Stone added to his post.
Soon after, he replaced the post with a cropped image of Jackson, this time with the crosshairs cut out. He also slightly altered the text about Mueller and added a few more hashtags.
Then, the post got pulled.
Jackson brought printouts of the posts into court Thursday. She began the hearing reviewing both a gag order she had placed on Stone’s case last Friday, and the terms of his release as he awaits a criminal trial. One of the terms following his arrest is that he cannot attempt to intimidate others, including judges and other officers of the court.
Gag order in Manafort case
Jackson has been down this road before. In the criminal case against Stone’s longtime colleague Paul Manafort, Jackson revoked Manafort’s bail and sent him to jail eight months after his arrest because prosecutors accused him of attempting to reach out to witnesses.
Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, had been on house arrest.
Stone’s attorneys had argued for him to keep the ability to speak broadly about his case and politics. Writing and public speaking were essential parts of who Stone is, they said. Again on Thursday, Stone’s defense attorney Bruce Rogow argued the Instagram post was indefensible, and that Stone wouldn’t cross the line again.
Stone was charged in late January for lying to congressional investigators about his efforts to communicate with WikiLeaks as he sought to help the Trump campaign damage Hillary Clinton in 2016. He also faces charges of obstruction and witness tampering. Jackson so far has been especially sensitive to the witness intimidation allegation, reminding Stone multiple times that he cannot contact potential witnesses in his case.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.