'Fierce' judge in Mueller cases tested by Stone

Federal district court Judge Amy Berman Jackson couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneLawmakers spar over upcoming Sondland testimony Himes: 'I don't think it blows a hole in the case' if Sondland testifies there was no quid pro quo Gates sentencing set for next month MORE, an associate of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump reversed course on flavored e-cigarette ban over fear of job losses: report Trump to award National Medal of Arts to actor Jon Voight Sondland notified Trump officials of investigation push ahead of Ukraine call: report MORE, admitted in open court that a volunteer had given him two or three photos of the judge to choose from, and for an Instagram post he picked the one that appeared to show the crosshairs of a rifle scope behind Jackson’s head.

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“You had a choice?” Jackson asked, incredulous after Stone’s admission.

The social media post, which many viewed as a personal threat against the judge presiding over his criminal case, could have landed Stone in jail. Some observers thought it should have, but Jackson gave him a second chance and instead imposed a harsher gag order.

Court watchers say it was a fair but firm ruling from the judge who has overseen six criminal cases stemming from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

“She’s fierce,” Julieanne Himelstein, a former federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C., said in praising the judge she has argued before and knows personally.

Court filings this week in Stone’s case suggest he may have violated the gag order by rereleasing a book with a new introduction that’s critical of the Russia investigation. Jackson has given Stone until Monday to explain how he is trying to comply with the order.

She also warned Stone that any violation could land him in jail while he awaits trial.

“I’m sure he knows that after being in that hearing, but he really dodged a bullet,” Himelstein said.

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The high-profile Mueller cases, including Stone’s, aren’t rattling Jackson, according to Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor and commentator for The Hill.

“This is a judge who has walked the walk,” he said.

Jackson was a federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney before former President Obama nominated her to the court in 2011. The Harvard Law School alumna served as an assistant U.S. attorney for D.C. in the 1980s and worked high-profile murder and sexual assault cases before going into private practice as a trial lawyer.

As an attorney at Trout Cacheris & Solomon PLLC — the job she held immediately before becoming a judge — Jackson defended ex-Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) when he was charged with bribery, money laundering and racketeering. He was convicted in 2009 and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

Turley said Jackson’s record as a litigator makes her a formidable judge.

“She knows what it’s like to be in that courtroom,” he said.

On the bench, Jackson sentenced civil rights activist and former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) to 30 months in prison in 2013 after he pleaded guilty to spending $750,000 in campaign funds on personal living expenses.

She allowed the former congressman and his then-wife, who was charged with tax fraud, to serve their sentences at separate times so one of them could be home to care for their young children.

“It was very, very unusual, but it was also unusual that a husband and wife with little kids pled one after another,” Reid Weingarten, Jackson Jr.’s attorney and a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, told The Hill. “We asked for it, and it was reasonable. She took into account the needs of the children. She’s also a human being, not an automaton.”

In addition to Stone’s trial, Jackson is presiding over the criminal case of Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortGates sentencing set for next month Yovanovitch says John Solomon's columns were used to push false allegations Trump bemoans 'double standard' in Stone conviction MORE, the former Trump campaign chairman who is facing up to 10 years in prison for the two charges of conspiracy he pleaded guilty to as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, one in which he agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.

But last month, Jackson ruled Manafort had violated the agreement by lying to prosecutors, the FBI and a federal grand jury.

Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced next week and his attorneys have asked for significantly less than the 10-year maximum.

Lisa Klem, special assistant to Chief Judge Beryl Howell at the federal D.C. court, said Jackson was randomly assigned the criminal case that Mueller brought against Manafort and his associate Richard Gates, as well as the criminal case against 12 Russian military officers who were indicted on charges of conspiring to hack into networks used by the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ahead of the 2016 election.

The criminal cases against Alex van der Zwaan and Sam Patten were also given to Jackson, but Klem said that was because federal prosecutors has designated them as cases “related” to Manafort.

Van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer, was the first person charged in Mueller’s probe. He pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s office about his contacts with Gates and was sentenced to 30 days in prison.

Patten, a GOP consultant linked to Manafort, pleaded guilty in August to failing to register as a foreign agent while lobbying for a Russia-linked political party in Ukraine and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 12.

The case against Roger Stone was also assigned to Jackson because Mueller and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C. said it was related to the case against the 12 Russian officers.

Stone is accused of lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his conversations regarding WikiLeaks ahead of the group’s release of hacked Democratic emails in 2016.

Weingarten and others commended Jackson for her ability to use considerable restraint when it comes to Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster.

“I think there are many judges I’ve been before and many that have been friends of mine who would have put him jail in a nanosecond,” Weingarten said. “I think she’s bending over backwards to maintain order and dignity in his case without being harsh. Putting a defendant in jail before a criminal trial creates a huge hardship for the defendant and the defense attorney.”