WASHINGTON – A judge on Friday imposed a limited gag order on Roger Stone, barring him from making any statements "that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case" while he's around the federal courthouse in Washington, DC.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued a broader restriction on the lawyers in the case, ordering them not to make any public statements — anywhere — that could prejudice the case.
Jackson wrote that while she wouldn't stop Stone from speaking publicly about the case away from the courthouse for now, he was still barred from communicating with any witnesses. She also warned that if he tried to complain about pretrial publicity in the future, she'd consider how much he was to blame.
"Finally, while it is not up to the Court to advise the defendant as to whether a succession of public statements would be in his best interest at this time, it notes that one factor that will be considered in the evaluation of any future request for relief based on pretrial publicity will be the extent to which the publicity was engendered by the defendant himself," Jackson wrote.
At a hearing earlier this month, Jackson announced that she was weighing whether to enter a gag order. She noted the intense publicity already surrounding the case, and said it had been "fueled" by Stone's own statements. She said that Stone had a First Amendment right to speak, but she had a duty to make sure he got a fair trial.
“This is a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign,” Jackson said at the time.
Jackson's general speech restrictions apply not only to Stone's lawyers and prosecutors, but also to lawyers for any witnesses in the case. The limit on courthouse-adjacent statements also applies to potential witnesses. Two individuals tied up in Stone's case — his former associates Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico — both gave lengthy press conferences outside the DC federal courthouse in the past. Corsi and Credico have not been charged, but Corsi is pursuing civil lawsuits against Stone and special counsel Robert Mueller in DC, and Credico was previously at the courthouse to testify before the special counsel's grand jury.
Stone and his lawyers had opposed a gag order. Prosecutors supported it. Mueller's office declined to comment. The special counsel's office is jointly prosecuting the case with the US attorney's office in Washington.
Stone's attorney Bruce Rogow told BuzzFeed News in an email: "We are pleased that Mr. Stone’s First Amendment Rights have been safeguarded. Courthouse steps restraints on all are reasonable."
Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, is charged with lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks and trying to tamper with a witness in that investigation. A federal grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted Stone on Jan. 24 on one count of obstructing Congress, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty at a court hearing on Jan. 29.
Stone had spoken publicly at length about the charges against him — he pleaded not guilty and has denounced Mueller's investigation — and made numerous media appearances. But he hasn't held press conferences before or after his two appearances to date at the US District Court for the District of Columbia. He's been swarmed by reporters and protesters when exiting, but aside from swinging out his arms with the double-V gesture made famous by former president Richard Nixon, Stone hasn't lingered outside the courthouse to opine on his case.
Jackson is also handling former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's criminal case in Washington. Early on in Manafort's case, Jackson imposed a gag order prohibiting either side from making public statements that could prejudice the case. Those proceedings offer insight into what kind of public statements might land Stone and the lawyers in trouble as the case goes forward.
A month after Jackson signed the gag order, prosecutors accused Manafort of violating it, claiming he was involved in ghostwriting an op-ed about the nature of his work in Ukraine. The op-ed, written by a former Ukrainian government official, was published in a Ukrainian newspaper, the Kyiv Post. Manafort's lawyers argued the op-ed wasn't likely to prejudice the case in the United States, and that the judge's order shouldn't be interpreted as a total ban on all speech by Manafort or his lawyers.
Jackson ultimately declined to find Manafort in violation of her order, but expressed that she had a broader interpretation of her order than what Manafort's lawyers had pushed. She warned them that she was "likely to view similar conduct in the future to be an effort to circumvent and evade the requirements of my order as they have been clarified."
Two weeks later, Rick Gates — Manafort's codefendant who later pleaded guilty and testified against Manafort — found himself in trouble with the judge. Gates had appeared in a video shown at a legal defense fundraiser organized by Republican lobbyist and conspiracy theorist Jack Burkman. Jackson ordered Gates to explain why he hadn't violated her order, noting that in the video he referred to "the cause" and the goal of "ensuring that our supporters from across the United States hear our message and stand with us," and asked about his relationship with Burkman, who had criticized the prosecution.
Gates's lawyers argued he hadn't violated the order because he was just thanking his supporters, and that neither Gates nor his lawyers had directed Burkman to make any specific comments about the case. At a hearing in January 2018, Jackson again declined to punish Gates, but said she wasn't convinced he was in full compliance with her order. She laid out more guidance about what Manafort and Gates could do going forward.
"You can fundraise, you can say what you want at a private gathering to people about why they should help you. And you can certainly send thank-you notes to anyone who contributes. But if the press is going to be invited to an event where you or your surrogate will be speaking, I suggest that that's a pretty big red flag," the judge said.
She also said that other people were free to raise money and speak on their behalf, but if the defense was involved in those efforts, they risked crossing a line.
"If the means used to solicit funds on your behalf is a public attack on the prosecution, you should not be cheering it on, you should not be part of the presentation. I think that gives you enough guidance moving forward," Jackson said.