Roger Stone’s Judge Tightens Gag Order After His Incendiary Instagram Post
(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. judge warned political provocateur Roger Stone that he will find himself in a federal lockup unless he stays off social media and stops communicating with the press about his criminal case.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington on Thursday scolded the adviser to President Donald Trump for his inflammatory Instagram post that included her photo alongside what appeared to be rifle-scope crosshairs. The image, which he deleted shortly after posting it on Monday, was accompanied by text critical of Jackson and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“It was an egregious, stupid mistake,” Stone, 66, told Jackson in surprise sworn testimony from the witness stand. “I am heartfully sorry.”
Jackson stopped short of ordering the self-anointed political dirty-trickster to jail, but she barred him from participating in any media interviews and ordered him off social media, at least as it relates to his case. He is allowed to declare his innocence in emails seeking contributions for his defense fund. Any further violations, the judge said, and she’d send him to jail.
“If you’re Roger Stone, being told you can’t talk to the media is probably a worse punishment than being sent to jail,” University of Alabama law professor and former prosecutor Joyce Vance posted on Twitter.
Stone made his fateful Instagram post on Feb. 18, just three days after Jackson had issued an order curbing what both sides could say publicly about the case in which Mueller charged Stone with lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing an investigation.
"Through legal trickery, Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges against Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime. #fixisin," Stone wrote on Instagram. "Help me fight for my life," he said, adding a link to his criminal defense fund.
During the 90-minute hearing, Jackson said there was no discernible reason for Stone to use her photo, adding, "more to the point, the picture that was picked was not selected randomly." When paired with the accompanying text, "the post had a more sinister message," she said.
Then, noting Stone’s history as a political operator, Jackson said he clearly understood the power of words and symbols. Even if the Instagram post had been deleted, she said, in social media, "there’s no such thing as a take back."
Stone was indicted last month for lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as well as for witness tampering and obstructing an investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.
On Feb. 15, Jackson ordered him, his attorneys and prosecutors not to make comments about the case that could influence potential jurors. After making and then deleting the post, Stone filed an apology with the court.
“Please inform the court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted," he wrote in the filing. “I had no intention of disrespecting the court and humbly apologize to the court for the transgression.”
On Thursday, Stone expounded on his apology, saying he was under severe pressure.
"I’ve exhausted my savings,” said Stone, who earlier told court officials he earns $47,000 per month. He said he was being treated for emotional stress.
Answering questioning from the judge, he said the image accompanying the photo wasn’t crosshairs, but rather a Celtic symbol and occult symbol. He said one of his five or six volunteers selected the photo, but he didn’t know who.
A Skeptical Judge
“How hard was it to come up with a photo that didn’t have a crosshairs?” Jackson asked, appearing frustrated with some of Stone’s answers.
Stone’s testimony was volunteered by one of his attorneys, Bruce Rogow, who elicited a string of apologies from his client and the assertion he didn’t believe the symbol next to Jackson’s head in the photo was indeed a crosshairs. Still, Stone told the judge he took it down after realizing it could be interpreted that way.
Under questioning from prosecutor Jonathan Kravis, the political operative acknowledged that he’d called Jackson an “Obama-appointed judge” in a Feb. 18 interview, even as his post asserting the same was being deleted because he’d belatedly realized it was inappropriate.
Jackson, a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer, was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2011. In 2017, she dismissed a lawsuit filed by parents of two of the four Americans killed in a terrorist attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound at Benghazi, Libya. They sought to hold former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton legally responsible. Jackson’s ruling was later upheld by a U.S. Court of Appeals.
Jackson also presided over one of Mueller’s two criminal cases against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, Stone’s former business partner.
In that case, she ordered Manafort and his lawyers not to make comments that could influence potential jurors. A month later, she reprimanded him for ghost-writing a Ukrainian newspaper article intended to burnish work he did for the pro-Russian government that ruled Ukraine at the time. Then, six months later, Jackson jailed Manafort after prosecutors accused him of tampering with two potential witnesses for his trial.
Manafort, who was convicted in both cases, faces a lengthy prison term for tax and bank fraud and other crimes when he’s sentenced next month. The president’s onetime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is set to start serving a three-year sentence in May for fraud, and ex-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos served two weeks for lying to the FBI.
Stone on Thursday appeared well aware that Jackson might jail him. His lawyer argued that Stone “assiduously” complied with the judge’s Feb. 15 gag order except for the Instagram post, and Stone said he had no “malicious intent.”
“I regret the entire thing,” Stone testified.
Jackson was unmoved and said Stone’s account of how the Instagram post had been created and by whom had not been credible.
She said the post could incite others who feel less restrained, saying one only need to look to today’s newspaper for an example, an apparent reference to Christopher Hasson, a Coast Guard lieutenant accused by the government Wednesday of plotting a domestic terror attack on prominent Democrats and members of the media.
"Today I gave you a second chance," Jackson said to Stone. "This is not baseball. There will not be a third chance."
The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
(Updates with details from hearing.)
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