Roger Stone banned from social media for violating gag order
WASHINGTON — A federal judge Tuesday ordered Roger Stone to stop using social media “in any way, on any subject,” while he is awaiting trial, saying the adviser to President Donald Trump has repeatedly tested the limits of a gag order prohibiting him from speaking publicly about the case.
“I’ve twice given you the benefit of the doubt,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said at a hearing Tuesday.
Jackson told Stone that he had repeatedly failed to act responsibly while awaiting trial on charges including obstruction and witness tampering, and compared his behavior to that of a middle-schooler. “Your lawyer had to twist the facts … and twist himself into a pretzel to argue that these posts don’t cross the line,” she said.
Stone, a longtime Republican operative, was charged in January with making false statements about his interactions with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. He was the last Trump adviser to be indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s wide-ranging investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Jackson said Stone has used his social media platforms to “gin up” more public comment and controversy about the legitimacy of the Russia investigation and, in turn, his own prosecution.
More: Judge warns Roger Stone that his new book could violate a gag order. ‘He may no longer share his views.’
“It seems he’s determined on making himself the subject of a story,” Jackson said.
The judge, however, declined to send Stone to jail, saying that finding him in contempt “would be wasteful, unnecessary and counterproductive” and would only lead to more pretrial publicity.
“So what am I supposed to do with you?” Jackson asked.
The social media restrictions – which prohibit Stone from using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – are in addition to earlier limits imposed by the gag order prohibiting Stone from speaking publicly about the case, the investigation, or anyone involved. The judge added those restrictions following recent Instagram posts that the government’s attorneys said violated the order.
Jackson imposed a gag order in February after a series of social media posts, including a picture of her next to what appeared to be a gun’s crosshairs. Stone, who said on Instagram that his post had been “widely misinterpreted,” apologized, saying the image was “improper.”
In June, prosecutors alerted the court about new social media posts that they say violated the gag order. One Instagram post showed what appears to be an screenshot image of an article claiming the Russia investigation was a hoax and the intelligence community’s “betrayal of their responsibilities.” Another post is an image saying former CIA director John Brennan must be “hung for treason.”
More: Judge to Roger Stone: Stop talking about federal case alleging obstruction and lying to Congress
During a testy exchange at the hearing Tuesday, Jackson went through several social media posts going as far back as March, including an image with the question, “Who framed Roger Stone?” and asked Stone’s attorney why the images don’t violate the gag order.
“The ones that you’ve presented to me are not in violation of the court order, unless the court order is saying he cannot say anything,” defense attorney Bruce Rogow told the judge. “Apparently, you may think that he has crossed the line.”
Rogow said that Stone’s Instagram posts are broad comments about his situation, the media and public filings in the case that “don’t pose a threat to a fair trial.” By raising “overblown and exaggerated” concerns about Stone’s social media activity, the government attorneys are “only creating more publicity,” Rogow said. He also said he’ll consult with Stone in the future and will review posts Stone wants to share online.
“I am sorry that the court is offended by these … I understand how one can look at them and come to the conclusion that they are either at the line or crossed the line,” Rogow said.
But Jackson was unpersuaded, saying that to suggest the posts are not statements about the case “ignores the essence of social media.” Stone, the judge said, took someone else’s statements and spread it, often adding his own rhetorical and provocative comments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis said “there’s no ambiguity” that Stone’s posts have crossed the line and that the defense attorneys are taking a “very narrow” view of the court order. Although some of the posts are not related to someone who’s directly involved in the case, they are based on “factual misrepresentations” that could prejudice a jury pool.
Stone had previously been warned that statements he’d made in public could violate the gag order. One of which was his book, “The Myth of Russian Collusion,” which was being sold online with a new introduction critical of the Russia investigation.
Stone’s defense attorneys said the book had already been published and offered for sale before Jackson issued the gag order on Feb. 21. But the judge faulted them for failing to mention the existence of the book during a hearing on the order and suggested that revealing it belatedly was intended to generate publicity.
Contributing: Bart Jansen