Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media

Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media
© Aaron Schwartz

A federal judge on Tuesday found Roger StoneRoger Jason Stone3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 Judge rejects Stone's request to dismiss charges Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference MORE violated a gag order she previously imposed in his case and blocked him from using certain social media platforms ahead of his trial in November.

An irate Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not revoke his bail but instead ordered Stone to not make posts "in any way or on any subject" on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Federal prosecutors filed a motion last month alleging that Stone had violated the gag order, which blocked him from publicly discussing his case, through several Instagram posts. The posts made reference to public court filings in Stone’s case, and the longtime Republican operative had tagged several media outlets in the images.

On Tuesday, Jackson painstakingly walked Stone's attorney, Bruce Rogow, through several Instagram posts made by Stone in recent weeks, asking the lawyer why each was not a violation of her gag order.

Jackson, an Obama appointee, read aloud from a transcript of testimony Stone gave under oath in court earlier this year about his control of his Instagram posts. She repeatedly cited the order in which she blocked Stone from publicly discussing his case and the investigation preceding it with posts on social media platforms like Instagram.

She also read aloud from some of the captions of the posts, including one attacking House Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calif.) as being "full of schiff."

"If it's schiff, flush it," Jackson said in one memorable reading of a caption.

Jackson said in her ruling that she did not want to start contempt proceedings for Stone, despite believing that he had violated the order several times, adding that she thought it would lead to even more media attention on the case.

The claim that Stone was seeking to become the story and trying to draw more attention to himself over the court filings was at the center of Jackson's blistering statement issuing the order against Stone.

She pointed to a previous filing by Stone's attorneys that sought clarification on the gag order in relation to a new introduction included in a printing of Stone's book that addressed the charges brought against him by now-former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE.

Jackson implied that she believed Stone and his lawyers were misleading in that instance as well, but that she didn't pursue the matter as federal prosecutors had not "overreacted" to the situation.

But, she added, Stone "continued to test the limits, which brings us to the current posts."

Jackson called out Stone for a pattern of behavior that she claimed sought to shift the focus to him and his case by continuing to make social media posts tied to his it when he felt that attention was fading.

"It seems he is determined to make himself the subject of a story," Jackson said.

Jackson said that while many of Stone's posts on Instagram were not comments originally made by him, he was still spreading their message. She added that while perhaps Stone's attorneys don't understand the power and influence of social media, she believes Stone does.

Jackson disputed the argument put forth by Stone's lawyers that their client didn't violate the order because his actions wouldn't impact the ability to conduct a fair trial. She characterized one lawyer as having "to twist himself into a pretzel to argue these posts didn't cross the line."

Stone's actions, Jackson said, have "more to do with middle school than a court of law."

Tuesday's order effectively serves as a blanket ban on his use of those three social media platforms; Stone is already banned from Twitter.

He is still unable to comment about his case otherwise, under the current terms of the gag order.

Jackson said she will reconsider her ruling if she finds that Stone has violated the order again.

Stone was indicted earlier this year with lying to Congress, impeding a congressional investigation and witness tampering – charges stemming from Mueller's probe.

Ahead of her ruling, Jackson presented Rogow with printed t copies of the Instagram posts in question, as well as a BuzzFeed News article quoting a text sent by Stone to a reporter. Rogow walked over to Stone’s seat at the defense table to huddle with his client about each post, before the lawyer discussed them with the judge.

The judge said that the court has repeatedly taken action to allow Stone to express his First Amendment rights outside of his case.

“I’ve let him travel wherever he wanted to go to speak, to be accompanied by whatever organization and to advance whatever point-of-view,” Jackson said.

“Was there anything unclear about my order?” the judge asked Rogow.

“I would say there was nothing unclear about the order and what your intention was, to suppress Mr. Stone from talking about the case,” Rogow replied.

Rogow also said that he had cleared a text Stone sent to media outlets in response to testimony given by former Trump attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations MORE, in which Cohen alleged that Stone had talked with then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE about a potential release of damaging information by WikiLeaks.

Jackson – frustrated at times – repeatedly pressed Rogow as to how the posts that made references to Mueller and congressional investigations or other elements of Stone’s case, the topics covered by her gag order, did not violate that order.

Rogow at times argued that the posts were not necessarily about those matters and would not impact the ability to conduct a fair trial.

For posts that cited media reporting about Stone’s case, Rogow argued, the images and captions were about the media outlets themselves. One such caption referred to reporting by Politico as being done by “biased elitist snot-nosed fake news shitheads who’s specialty is distortion by omitting key facts to create a false narrative.”

“The whole theory of any kind of restraint on a person’s ability to speak in this kind of situation has to do with whether or not it will affect a fair trial,” Rogow said.

However, the attorney conceded that “one can look at them and come to a conclusion, yes they were either at the line or crossed the line.” And Rogow noted that Jackson’s “tone” during the questioning suggested that she would rule against Stone.

But he promised that he and Stone would review every image and caption that Stone planned to post on Instagram to ensure it complied with the court order.

Federal prosecutor Jonathan Kravis argued that the question isn’t whether Stone’s posts would impact the ability to have a fair trial, but whether the posts violated Jackson’s gag order.

“These most recent posts are about factual misrepresentations about a subject that is not actually relevant to the trial,” Kravis said, “spreading information about things the jury will never hear about in the courtroom.”

Part of Rogow’s argument on Tuesday also centered on the fact that several of the images shared on Instagram were not originally created by Stone. But Kravis argued that made no difference.

He said that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., which is handling the case, doesn't want Jackson to penalize Stone for the posts. Rather, the prosecutors would like Jackson to further clarify the gag order and potentially issue an order blocking Stone from using social media at all.

Stone’s attorneys appeared to struggle before Jackson on other matters as well.

The one-time Trump campaign adviser has been seeking to suppress information in his case obtained through roughly 17 search warrants.

Stone lawyer Robert Buschel had argued earlier in the hearing that there was an unsound basis for the warrants being granted. He claimed that the warrants’ inclusion of the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russian hackers had interfered with the 2016 presidential election wasn’t necessarily true.

But Jackson asked whether the agent who had signed the affidavit had made a false statement of their own accord, and requested that Buschel point her to such an instance.

“Where’s your argument,” Jackson said at one point, her head in her hands, “that the government knew full well that the affiant knew full well or was reckless when he told the court this is what the [intelligence community] has decided?”

Buschel – after Jackson sent him back to review his legal team court filings – said that the statements alleging Russian hacking in the affidavits weren’t necessarily accurate. But Jackson said the search warrant applications didn’t “mislead the court” about the facts available at the time.

Federal prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky also pushed back against the claims, noting that the charges against Stone only relate to alleged false statements or witness tampering.

That has nothing to do with hacking or WikiLeaks – the issues raised by Stone’s lawyers – Zelinsky said, labelling some of the characterizations as a “conspiracy theory” and “a long frolicking detour.”

--This report was updated at 1:55 p.m.