Roger Stone banned from social media after judge rules gag order breached
Roger Stone (R), the former adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Court House with his wife Nydia Stone on July 16, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
A federal judge on Tuesday banned Republican operative Roger Stone from posting anything at all on major social media platforms after ruling that the longtime confidant of President Donald Trump violated an already strict gag order in his criminal case.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson during a hearing in Washington, D.C., district court walked through a litany of Stone’s recent posts from his Instagram account that appeared to breach his order not to speak publicly about his case.
“It seems he is determined to make himself the subject of the story,” Jackson said of Stone, according to BuzzFeed News.
Stone’s lawyer argued that his client’s posts did not have an impact on the case, even if he was communicating about it publicly, BuzzFeed reported.
Federal prosecutors didn’t call on Jackson to revoke Stone’s $250,000 criminal release bond — which would have landed Stone in jail pending trial. Instead, they asked for him to be cut off from his social media presence, Politico reported.
Jackson’s finding that Stone violated his gag order “seems clear and correct,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor and federal courts expert at the University of Richmond. “Despite numerous chances to mend his ways, Stone persists in misbehaving in many ways. The punishment seems appropriate to the misconduct in violating her earlier gag order.”
Stone is charged with witness tampering, obstruction of justice and lying to Congress. He has pleaded not guilty.
Stone, 66, a notoriously verbose political operative who has described himself as a “dirty trickster,” had previously been dressed down by the judge for his public statements about the federal criminal case.
Jackson first imposed a partial gag order in February barring Stone from talking to the media about his case, to avoid prejudicing potential jurors.
That measure came after Stone’s arraignment in Florida federal court, where Stone immediately began a media blitz including interviews with right-wing conspiracy website Infowars, public statements to reporters — and even a video on courthouse fashion.
Jackson’s light gag order soon proved insufficient to hold Stone’s tongue.
On his Instagram account, Stone posted a photo of the judge’s face next to what looked like a rifle scope’s crosshairs, accompanied by text attacking former special counsel Robert Mueller as a “Deep State hitman” and Jackson as an “Obama appointed Judge.”
He later deleted the post and apologized. But Jackson dragged him into her courtroom days later to explain why his quarter-million-dollar bond should not be revoked in light of the apparent gag order violation.
At that hearing, Stone opted to take the stand to make a direct mea culpa to Jackson. “I am hurtfully sorry for my own stupidity,” he said in the bizarre hearing.
But his self-flagellation did not move the judge. “I’m not giving you another chance. I have serious doubts on whether you learned any lesson at all,” Jackson told him.
While she did not revoke his bond at that hearing, Jackson significantly strengthened Stone’s gag order to muzzle him from making any public statements about his criminal case or any of its participants, including Mueller.
A few months later, federal prosecutors alerted Jackson to more social media posts from Stone’s accounts, arguing that they violated his bail release conditions.
Those posts included screenshots of content critical of Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin, and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
Stone’s lawyers pushed back, denying that the posts breached the gag order and accusing prosecutors of “willful blindness” by focusing on three of Stone’s Instagram posts, while ignoring “the tens of thousands of hostile-to-Stone articles” and other media critical of him.
Federal prosecutors have accused Stone of lying to congressional lawmakers about his alleged involvement in the publication by whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election.
Stone’s trial is scheduled to begin in November.
Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is a minority investor in BuzzFeed.
— CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.
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