WASHINGTON — The judge presiding over Roger Stone’s criminal case said Friday that she is mulling imposing a gag order on Stone, President Donald Trump’s outspoken, longtime adviser who made a series of media appearances after he was arrested last week in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said she hadn’t decided yet if an order limiting what Stone, his lawyers, and prosecutors say in public is necessary, but she noted the intense public interest and press coverage already surrounding his case. She also pointed out that the publicity had been “fueled” by Stone’s own statements.
“This is a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign,” Jackson said.
Stone had a First Amendment right to speak, Jackson said, but the fact that he had invoked his right to a trial by jury meant she had a responsibility to ensure he could get a fair trial. The judge said that as of now, she was confident she could seat an impartial jury, but she warned that every time Stone speaks, the press coverage that would follow would include a rehashing of the allegations — increasing the odds of tainting the jury pool. She also urged Stone to consider that prosecutors would be free at trial to introduce any public statements he made that were inconsistent with what was presented in court.
The judge said that such an order wouldn’t stop Stone from speaking in public altogether — Stone could still “discuss foreign relations, immigration, or Tom Brady,” she said. The order that the judge is contemplating under the court’s rules, which she entered in Paul Manafort’s criminal case as well, prohibits parties and lawyers from making statements likely to prejudice the case. Jackson gave both sides until Feb. 8 to weigh in on whether she should impose such an order.
If the judge does issue a gag order, Stone could be forced to limit what he says in public about his case for many months; Assistant US Attorney Michael Marando told the judge Friday that the government and Stone’s lawyers were roughly estimating being ready for a trial in the fall. Jackson said she had been thinking July or August, but will wait to set deadlines for pretrial filings and hearings until the next court date, which is scheduled for March 14.
Stone 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 Jan. 29.
The most serious charge, witness tampering, carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The US Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC, and Mueller’s office are jointly handling the prosecution. At Friday’s hearing, Marando, who is with the US Attorney’s Office, did the talking for the government.
As part of his pretrial release conditions, Stone is barred from contacting witnesses in his case. Marando said the government gave the defense a list of names specifying who Stone cannot contact, but it won’t be public; the judge said the government could submit that to her under seal. She made clear to Stone that the no-contact order not only meant no in-person communication, but also no electronic messaging over encrypted or unencrypted applications. She asked if Stone understood.
“Yes, your honor,” Stone replied. He did not speak otherwise during the hearing.
Jackson had imposed a gag order early on in the criminal case against Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair, as well as Manafort’s longtime right-hand man Rick Gates. There were some hiccups early on — both Manafort and Gates were asked to account for public-facing activities they both engaged in after being charged — but neither defendant was ever punished.
At a hearing in January 2018, Jackson laid out what she believed was allowed, and not allowed, under a gag order.
“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,” she said at the time.
Jackson also said that other people were free to raise money and speak in support of the defense, 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.