WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday issued an order prohibiting Roger Stone, a longtime ally and adviser of President Donald Trump's, from posting anything on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter after finding he violated her previous order limiting what he could say publicly about his case.
Pointing to a series of Instagram posts and statements from Stone referring to his case and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found that Stone was "determined to make himself the subject of the story." Once again, the judge said, she was forced to address behavior that "has more to do with middle school than with a court of law" — an apparent nod to comments she made at a previous hearing in former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's case.
"Your lawyer had to twist the facts, twist the plain meaning of the order and twist himself into a pretzel to argue these posts didn’t cross the line, and in the end it wasn’t persuasive," Jackson said.
Jackson said she wouldn't take the more serious steps of revoking Stone's bond and putting him in jail pending trial, or holding Stone in contempt, saying it wasn't a good use of the court's or the government's resources; the US attorney's office in Washington, DC, hadn't asked for that level of punishment. She made clear that Stone could still fundraise for his legal defense, but she said he was unwilling to conform with her orders. Her earlier order, which largely bars Stone from publicly talking about his case on any platform or forum, remains in effect.
Whether the problem was that Stone couldn't follow "simple orders" or won't, the judge said, "I have to help you out."
Stone, a prolific social media user, has been largely barred from talking about his case or former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation since Jackson imposed a gag order Feb. 21. She originally gave Stone leeway to speak with reporters and to comment on social media, but issued the stricter order, which explicitly applies to social media as well as other public statements, after Stone posted a photo of the judge on Instagram with what appeared to be a crosshairs symbol.
Jackson’s order still allowed Stone to proclaim his innocence and ask for donations to support his legal defense, but nothing more. Stone puts up fundraising posts for his case on Instagram on a regular, if not daily, basis. His other recent posts have ranged from expressions of support for Trump, criticism of Democrats running for president, cooking pictures, and commentary on men's fashion.
At Tuesday's hearing, Jackson noted that in the months since imposing the gag order, she had allowed Stone to express himself in various ways — granting his requests to travel and to speak and allowing him to associate with various organizations, as well as advance his opinions about a variety of subjects. Stone has continued to speak and post online declaring his innocence and has made a string of fundraising appearances across the country.
The US attorney's office filed papers in June that accused Stone of violating the judge's restrictions on what he could publicly say about his case. Prosecutors pointed to posts by Stone on Instagram and Facebook that highlighted arguments raised by his lawyers in the case and questioned the lack of media coverage. One Instagram post screenshotted an article about a recent court filing from Stone’s lawyers with the caption, “But where is the @NYTimes? @washingtonpost ? @WSJ? @CNN?”
At a hearing Tuesday, the judge began her inquiry by asking Stone's attorney Bruce Rogow if her Feb. 21 order was unclear. Rogow chuckled — the judge was not smiling or laughing — and said the order was not unclear. Jackson asked Rogow to confirm that Stone was completely responsible for his Instagram account, and Rogow said he was.
The judge then asked about a BuzzFeed News article from Feb. 27 — less than a week after Jackson imposed the gag order, the judge later noted — that quoted a text message from Stone responding to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen's testimony before a congressional committee. Cohen had claimed Stone told Trump in July 2016 that Stone had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about an email dump that would hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign. Asked about Cohen's testimony by BuzzFeed News, Stone texted, "Mr. Cohen's statement is not true."
Stone made clear that his message was a statement, but did not elaborate on what part of Cohen's testimony he believed was false.
Rogow told Jackson on Tuesday that Stone said he'd asked Rogow for permission before sending the text, but Rogow said he didn't remember that. BuzzFeed News had contacted Stone's attorneys at the time to ask if they believed his statements complied with the judge's gag order, but they did not respond.
Jackson proceeded to question Rogow about a string of Instagram posts on Stone's account that referenced his case or the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election in some way, including a photo of Stone with the text "Who framed Roger Stone" — à la the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit; a post regarding a Politico story about a court order in his case that referred to the publication as "biased elitist snot-nosed fake news shitheads who’s specialty is distortion by omitting key facts to create a false narrative"; a photo of House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff with the text "BULLSCHIFF" and a caption that included the line, "If it's Schiff Flush it"; and several posts republishing articles from websites about his case.
Rogow argued that Stone was only communicating about public filings in his case, prompting the judge to point out that her order didn't include exceptions for public filings. Rogow also argued that republishing articles written by other people wasn't the same as Stone making statements about the case, but Jackson again pushed back, saying that's how social media works — content goes viral because other people endorse it by sharing it.
"That’s the power of it, that’s the speed of it, that’s the multiplication of it," Jackson said.
In announcing her decision, Jackson also noted that when Stone and his lawyers had argued against a stricter gag order in February, they hadn't told her that he was planning to soon release an updated version of a book he'd written that addressed Mueller's investigation and the charges against Stone. That didn't "augur well" for his future compliance with her order, the judge said.
Rogow argued that even if Stone was talking about his case on social media, it wasn't anything that would make it difficult to seat an impartial jury or to get a fair trial. Jackson said that wasn't the point — she was trying to determine if Stone violated her order, and any effect on the trial would go to what she should do about it. Rogow said he believed the judge's order was "overbroad," although he acknowledged he hadn't challenged it.
Rogow asked that the judge not take any additional action against Stone, and let the hearing "speak for itself." Stone's lawyers would make sure there were no problems with compliance going forward, he said.
"I don’t think that they violated the court order. I understand how one can look at them and come to a conclusion that, yes, they were either at the line or crossed the line. But Mr. Stone has tried to hew to that line," Rogow said.
Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Kravis argued there was nothing "ambiguous or unclear" about the judge's order, and that Stone had "clearly" violated it. Jackson asked what he thought she should do. Kravis said the government was not asking her to hold Stone in contempt, but said at a minimum she should clarify her order to be more specific — that it applied to posts about public filings and comments phrased as questions, for instance — and consider blocking him from using social media altogether.
Adam Schiff is chair of the House Intelligence Committee. An earlier version of this post referred to him as vice chair.