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Judge issues gag order in Roger Stone case after Instagram post controversy

He will no longer be permitted to speak publicly about his case.

Roger Stone leaves the Prettyman United States Courthouse after a hearing February 1, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Roger Stone leaves the Prettyman United States Courthouse after a hearing February 1, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Roger Stone has been gagged.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued an order Thursday barring the longtime Trump adviser and political trickster from publicly speaking about his case.

“From this moment on, the defendant may not speak publicly about the investigation or the case or any of the participants,” Jackson said in a hearing.

Stone has been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with attempting to obstruct the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 election, making false statements to that committee, and witness tampering.

The new gag order comes just six days after Jackson issued her initial media contact order in the case — one that left Stone free to speak publicly about the case to his heart’s content, except when he’s in the vicinity of the federal courthouse in Washington, DC.

But it didn’t take long for Stone to put his foot in his mouth. On Monday, he made the very unwise move of personally attacking Jackson herself in an Instagram post. But what jumped out to many observers was the symbol by Jackson’s head — which some believed looked like crosshairs. (Stone said it was no such thing.)

The judge called a hearing Thursday to discuss the matter, and Stone chose to testify under oath about what happened. He admitted that he did post the Instagram image, but said a volunteer had picked out the image for him (though he said he couldn’t remember who that volunteer was). He maintained that he had not understood the symbol to be “crosshairs,” but rather a Celtic cross. He also said he was very sorry.

Jackson, however, didn’t buy it. “Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols. And there’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs,” she said.

She added: “No, Mr. Stone. I’m not giving you another chance. I have serious doubts about whether you have learned any lesson at all.”

How we got here

Even before his actual indictment last month, Stone was outspoken about the possible charges against him — which he claimed were merely a politically biased attempt by Mueller to “frame” him. After his arrest, he continued to proclaim his innocence and decry the circumstances of the early morning FBI raid on his home.

But on February 1, Jackson said she was considering imposing a gag order on all parties in the Stone case — which would limit Stone’s ability to speak publicly about the case outside of court. She said she took Stone’s First Amendment rights seriously, but worried that his comments could make it harder to seat an impartial jury. “This is a criminal proceeding, not a public relations campaign,” the judge said.

Stone and his lawyers, however, vociferously argued against such an order being imposed. “A prior restraint of Roger Stone’s free speech rights would be an unconstitutional violation of Stone’s right to work, to pursue his livelihood and to be part of the public discourse,” Stone’s attorneys wrote. Prosecutors said they would not oppose such an order, but did not outright push for one.

So last Friday, Jackson issued her order — and did not gag Stone, except in the very limited circumstances of when he is physically near the federal district courthouse in Washington, DC. However, she left open the possibility of changing her mind in the future.

Stone and his lawyers were thrilled. “BREAKING- I am grateful that the Judge’s order today leaves my First Amendment Rights intact so that I can defend myself,” Stone wrote on Instagram, accompanied by a picture of him making Nixon’s V-for-Victory gesture. “I will, nonetheless continue to be judicious in my comments regarding my case,” he added.

But it only took three days before Stone changed his tune on Jackson.

Stone posted an image of the judge’s face on Instagram with the comment that “Deep State hitman Robert Mueller” had used “legal trickery” to assign his case to Jackson, an “Obama appointed judge” who had “incarcerated Paul Manafort. (In fact, Mueller followed a local rule about cases with common warrants.)

Commentators soon pointed out the symbol to the left of Jackson’s head in the image, which some argued looked like crosshairs. Stone took down the post, republished a modified image without the crosshairs-looking-symbol and “hitman” reference, and then took that down too. He also said he didn’t understand the symbol to be “crosshairs.”

Before the day ended, Stone’s lawyers had filed a “Notice of Apology” on his case’s docket — something several legal commentators said they had never seen before.

Jackson was not happy. The next day, she ordered Stone to appear before her later in the week, for a hearing on whether the gag order should be stiffened, and even broached the possibility that his “conditions of release” may be “modified or revoked.”

So, in Thursday’s tense and occasionally absurd hearing, Stone struggled to explain how he obtained the image and ended up posting it, under questioning from both the judge and prosecutor Jonathan Kravis from the DC US Attorney’s Office.

“I do not find any of the evolving and contradictory explanations credible,” Judge Jackson said at the hearing’s end. “Mr. Stone could not even keep his story straight on the stand.”

She stressed that, under her new gag order, Stone could keep raising money for his legal defense fund, and professing his innocence in general terms. But he could no longer “speak publicly about the investigation or the case or any of the participants.”

Any violation of the order, the judge said, would be a basis for revoking Stone’s bond or detaining him pending trial. If he didn’t comply, she told him, she’d find it necessary to “adjust your environment.”

For more on the Mueller probe, follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and check out Vox’s guide to the Trump-Russia investigation.

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