WASHINGTON – A federal judge has barred Roger Stone from speaking publicly about his case or special counsel Robert Mueller after he posted a photo of the judge on Instagram next to what appeared to be crosshairs.
Stone will remain free pending his trial, but US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson warned that any violation of her new gag order would land Stone behind bars. Stone was getting a second chance, the judge said, but unlike in baseball, there would not be a third one. Stone will be allowed to solicit donations for his legal defense fund and assert that he's innocent, but that's it, the judge said.
"The privilege, the liberty he was afforded was promptly abused," Jackson said as she announced her decision from the bench. "If the conduct of the past weekend is what Mr. Stone would call judicious, it would be foolhardy for the court to take no action and learn what injudicious looks like.”
Jackson barred Stone from speaking publicly about his case, the investigation against him, and any participants in that investigation — a category that would include Mueller and his office. She had previously only blocked him from speaking to reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington.
The judge issued the new gag order after Stone took the stand Thursday to apologize for the post and defend himself. He repeatedly used the words "stupid" and "egregious" to describe his decision to post the photo and said it was the result of the "extreme stress" he was under. But he also continued to insist he didn't see the image in the photo as crosshairs at the time he posted it — he said it was the logo of an organization that had posted the image, and he thought it was an occult or Celtic symbol.
"I am kicking myself over my own stupidity, but not more than my wife is kicking me," Stone said. "This is just a stupid lapse of judgment."
Jackson appeared unmoved by Stone's contrition, saying his apology “rings quite hollow.” When Stone's lawyer Bruce Rogow said that Stone's behavior was "indefensible," she replied: "I agree with you there."
Stone said he did not choose the image of the judge that he posted, but struggled to remember who did. He said he had five or six volunteers working for him but that he couldn't remember who found the image, how he got it — he said it might have been texted or emailed, or saved on his phone by someone with access — or who he was with when he posted it. Asked by Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Kravis if he still had the messages saved on his phone that would reveal who gave him the photo, Stone said he'd deleted pictures of the judge to avoid making the same mistake. (Stone's case is being handled jointly by the US attorney's office in Washington and Mueller's office.)
Jackson was incredulous at Stone's revelation there were multiple photos of her available to him at the time: "You had a choice?"
She questioned whether Stone's apologies could be believed when he continued to do interviews and use language similar to what he included in the Instagram post after his lawyers filed a written apology with the court earlier this week — for instance, referring to Jackson as an "Obama-appointed" judge. Stone said he was responding to what he saw as distortions in the press of what he had posted, and that he didn't have "malicious intent."
Jackson asked Stone if anyone was paying him to talk about his case. He said no, but that he was struggling to make money for basic living expenses, noting he couldn't tap his legal defense fund for that. The judge noted that Stone had told the pretrial services office he was earning $47,000 per month.
The judge also noted that Stone had been accused of threatening witnesses in the case against him, but she said the recent events indicated that those pending charges hadn't "chastened" him from going on the attack.
"What concerns me is the fact that he chose to use his public platform and chose to express himself in a manner that can incite others that feel less constrained," the judge said, adding that one didn't need to look beyond today's headlines to know that was a problem. Multiple news outlets have reported since last night about allegations that a coast guard officer was plotting a white supremacist terror attack.
Jackson said Stone couldn't seem to keep the narrative of what happened straight, and that as someone whose life's work involved communications, Stone understood the power of words and symbols.
"There is nothing ambiguous about crosshairs," she said.
Jackson released a written version of her order a few hours after Stone's hearing ended. It not only bars Stone himself from talking about his case and Mueller's investigation, but prohibits him from indirectly commenting by having "surrogates, family members, spokespersons, representatives, or volunteers" speak on his behalf.
"The prohibition includes, but is not limited to, statements made about the case through the following means: radio broadcasts; interviews on television, on the radio, with print reporters, or on internet based media; press releases or press conferences; blogs or letters to the editor; and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media," the judge's order says.
Less than a month after a federal grand jury indicted Stone on charges that he lied to Congress about his communications with Wikileaks and attempted to tamper with witnesses — he has pleaded not guilty — the outspoken GOP operative's case was sidetracked by the now-deleted Feb. 18 Instagram post.
Jackson had ordered Stone to appear in court to explain the post that featured a photo of Jackson and a symbol that resembled crosshairs. A version of the image had appeared on conspiracy theory websites, including one called Americans for Innovation.
Stone had posted the photo in response to a ruling from Jackson denying Stone's effort to get the case assigned to a different judge. Within hours of posting the picture, however, Stone removed it and put up a statement on Instagram saying it had been "misinterpreted."
"This was random photo taken from the internet .Any [sic] inference that this was meant to somehow threaten the Judge or disrespect court is categorically false," Stone wrote.
Stone's lawyers then took the extraordinary step of filing an apology on Stone's behalf with the court.
"Mr. Stone recognizes the impropriety and had it removed," they wrote of the Instagram post.
But Jackson wasn't satisfied. The next day, she issued an order scheduling a hearing to consider whether to revise the limited gag order she had imposed on Stone, and also whether to adjust his conditions of release pending a trial. Stone doesn't have a trial date yet, but at a hearing earlier this month, a prosecutor told the judge that the government and the defense anticipated being ready for trial in the fall.
Earlier this month, Jackson issued an order barring Stone, along with any of the lawyers or witnesses, from talking about the case outside the courthouse, but she said she'd allow Stone to continue speaking to the media if he wished. However, the judge warned Stone that if he raised any issues about pretrial publicity going forward, she'd consider how much he was to blame. Stone's lawyers are already bound by a stricter gag order that prohibits them from making any public comments about the case that could prejudice the proceedings.
Updated with information from the judge's written media contact order.