- The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone has barred him from publicly discussing any aspect of his case.
- The move came after Stone uploaded an inflammatory photo to his Instagram account that showed US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s face over crosshairs.
- Jackson said Stone had “promptly abused” the leniency he was afforded in his initial gag order, which only barred him from discussing his case on courthouse steps but not anywhere else.
- Stone took full responsibility for the post, calling it “an egregious, stupid error for which I apologise to the court.”
A federal judge barred the longtime GOP strategist Roger Stone from publicly discussing any aspect of his ongoing legal case following a court hearing on Thursday.
The full gag order came after Stone uploaded a post to his Instagram on Monday that appeared to threaten the judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, by showing her face over crosshairs. The caption on the post, which has since been deleted, attacked her as an “Obama-appointed” judge who “dismissed” charges against Hillary Clinton and for revoking the bond of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign.
After Stone testified at the hearing Thursday, Jackson said he had “promptly abused” the leniency he was afforded in his original gag order, which permitted him to discuss his ongoing case everywhere except the courthouse steps.
Jackson had previously placed a partial gag order on Stone and his lawyers to prevent biasing potential jurors.
The order prohibited Stone’s lawyers “from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice.”
Now, Stone is allowed to raise money for his legal defence fund but cannot make any public statements about his own case or any participants in it.
While the Instagram post did not technically violate the parameters of the initial gag order, the nature of the photo caused Jackson to order Stone and his lawyers back into court to re-evaluate the order.
The special counsel Robert Mueller’s office indicted Stone in January on one count of obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, and one count of witness tampering in connection with his contacts with people linked to the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks.
Stone, a longtime Trump ally who was also an early informal campaign adviser, pleaded not guilty to all seven counts. He also emphasised that he would not testify against Trump but left the door open to cooperating with prosecutors against others on the campaign who may be ensnared in the Russia probe.
At Thursday’s hearing, Stone took responsibility for posting the incendiary message and expressed remorse, attributing his “lapse in judgment” to “extreme stress” over his case and paying his legal bills.
“I am kicking myself for my own stupidity, but not more than my wife is kicking me,” Stone said on the witness stand. “This was an egregious, stupid error for which I apologise to the court.”
Stone maintained, however, that one of the “volunteers” who help him run his social media accounts picked out the photo, and he believed at the time that the background contained Celtic crosses or an Occult symbol instead of crosshairs, according to BuzzFeed News’ Zoe Tillman.
Jonathan Kravis, one of the federal prosecutors involved in arguing Stone’s case, asked Jackson for a tighter gag order on both Stone and his lawyers after cross-examining Stone.
Kravis argued that Stone’s apology was “not credible,” given the fact that a Facebook page belonging to Stone continued to share articles from right-wing websites Infowars and the Gateway Pundit which called accusations that the photo of Berman Jackson contained crosshairs “a hoax.” Stone also did a live interview on Infowars during which he repeated some of the claims against Berman Jackson expressed in the Instagram post.
Stone’s lawyers agreed that their client’s conduct on social media was “indefensible,” but asked for no changes to the existing media contact order.
Jackson emphasised that Stone’s current bond will be revoked and he will be jailed if he violates his new, stricter gag order.
Kravis works for the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, and his appearance during Thursday’s hearing confirms that Mueller’s team is beginning to hand off certain casework to other Justice Department offices as the attorney general, William Barr, reportedly prepares to announce the end of the Russia investigation.
In addition to Stone’s case, federal prosecutors in Washington, DC, are also said to be handling Mueller’s criminal case involving a Russian social-media conspiracy, as well as an ongoing court battle with an unidentified foreign corporation fighting a grand-jury subpoena.