Roger Stone won't go to jail for violating a court-imposed gag order, but he does have to stop using social media.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Tuesday penalized the longtime Donald Trump associate after ruling that several of his Instagram posts ran afoul of a court order to not comment on his case. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Stone in January for lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. His trial is expected to begin in November.
Specifically, Jackson told Stone he may no longer use Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to comment not just on his case but also on any other topic — political or apolitical.
During a contentious Tuesday hearing, she addressed about a dozen social media posts and other comments Stone has made dating back to February that government prosecutor Jonathan Kravis in court argued "clearly violate" the gag order.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” Jackson asked Stone after ruling he had repeatedly broken her prohibition that he shouldn't be commenting about the case at all. She likened his situation as “more to do with middle school than a court of law.”
While Kravis refrained from recommending Jackson find Stone in criminal or civil contempt over the gag order violations — which could have involved fines or jail time — he did suggest a complete social media ban. And after taking an hour-long recess, Jackson said she agreed with the government that a contempt hearing was “not a good use of the court’s resources” and she was “not inclined to revoke bond at this time.”
Jackson criticized Stone for trying to gin up publicity in his case with his social media posts.
“It seems he's determined to make himself the subject of the story,” she said. And she challenged the longtime GOP operative for offering explanations about his commentary that required his lawyer “to twist himself into a pretzel.”
The judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, initially allowed Stone the ability to talk about his case so long as he didn’t comment in the vicinity of the Washington, D.C., courtroom where he’s scheduled to go on trial. But she added new limits in February after Stone delivered a courtroom apology for posting a photo of what looked like gun-sight crosshairs above a picture of the judge.
Tuesday’s updated restrictions, Jackson said, will cover Stone’s use of all the major social media networks, though Twitter already banned him in October 2017 for a series of expletive-laden posts about CNN. Stone is also under a previous gag order talking about his case that still stands.
During the hearing, Jackson handed copies of Stone’s posts to his lawyer, Bruce Rogow, who then conferred with Stone before offering arguments for why they did not violate the gag order. Notably, Rogow didn't dispute that Stone had posted any of the messages.
But his answers parsed whether they had crossed any lines.
Regarding a message Stone sent to Buzzfeed offering a comment about the validity of testimony that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen had just delivered to Congress, Rogow argued the remarks had nothing to do with Stone's own case.
Rogow said that another Stone post — with the words "Who framed Roger Stone?" — was "simply a comment on his situation that he's in court, that he's subject to some action in court."
Jackson also read aloud a Stone Instagram post from May, in which he took issue with a POLITICO story about her decision to see unredacted portions of Mueller's final report. The post called out the article as incorrect "because they are biased elitist snot-nosed fake news shitheads who's specialty is distortion by omitting key facts to create a false narrative."
"It's a comment about POLITICO. It's a comment about what they did and how they reacted to the public filing about the case," Rogow explained.
Asked for recommendations on how she should handle the gag order issue, Stone's lawyers said they would urge Jackson to consider repealing her prohibition.
"I think you should let this hearing speak for itself," Rogow added, while also promising to work with Stone on all of his subsequent social media posts to make sure they don't violate any limits.
Kravis countered that Stone seemed to be unable to stop himself from getting into trouble on social media.
"The events of Feb. 21 to today show no matter how clear a line the court draws the defendant will cross it," Kravis said.
Jackson opened Tuesday’s hearing by focusing on a separate motion from Stone’s attorneys. That filing is seeking to toss out evidence collected under search warrants that Stone's attorneys say are flawed because they state WikiLeaks obtained stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 presidential campaign from Russia. Stone's team says the U.S. government has never shown definitive proof of Kremlin finger pints.
But federal prosecutor Michael Marando challenged the whole premise of the Stone motion, calling it a "conspiracy theory" that takes the court on a "long and frolicking detour" that has nothing to do with the actual case against Stone.
“It is a sideshow and it is an attempt to throw smoke up on the underlying issues of this case,” he said.
Jackson didn’t rule from the bench Tuesday on the Stone motion but repeatedly pressed his lawyers to back up their claim with more substance.
"What is the statement that was knowingly or recklessly false? Point to one affidavit,” she said.