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The new drama over whether Roger Stone violated his gag order, explained

Stone’s re-released book and a recent Instagram Story have raised questions.

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.

Less than two weeks after Judge Amy Berman Jackson gagged Roger Stone from commenting on his case, the garrulous Trump ally already has some explaining to do.

Two new issues have been brought to the court’s attention. One is a book by Stone called The Myth of Russian Collusion, in which Stone claims he is on “Crooked Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s hit list.” The second is an Instagram Story from Stone’s account, which contains the text, “Who framed Roger Stone.”

Jackson will now have to assess whether either of these count as a violation of her gag order — and, if so, what the consequences for Stone should be.

Stone was indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller in January for obstructing a congressional investigation, making false statements, and witness tampering. And, in the first few weeks, Jackson permitted him to keep speaking about his case publicly.

But on February 18, Stone posted a picture of Jackson’s face on Instagram, with a symbol that resembled crosshairs near her head, and a caption that complained about his “upcoming show trial” and persecution by “Deep State hitman Robert Mueller.”

Jackson was extremely unhappy about this, and at a wild hearing in which Stone himself took the stand, she said his comments posed a danger to the community and ordered him not to speak publicly about the investigation.

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.” Now she’s already been tasked with reviewing two potential violations of the order.

1) Stone’s new (actually re-released) book

Roger Stone’s re-released, re-titled book.
Skyhorse Publishing

Two years ago, Stone released a book called The Making of the President 2016: How Donald Trump Orchestrated a Revolution. The book — a quickly written cash grab — purported to give Stone’s account and analysis of what happened during the election, as well as his own history with Trump (whom he’d advised, on and off, for decades).

Since then, Stone became a major figure in Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference with the election. Last year, Mueller hauled a plethora of Stone’s associates before his grand jury, to get their testimony on just what Stone was up to in 2016. The special counsel seemed particularly interested in what Stone knew about the Democratic emails that had been hacked by Russian intelligence officers and were later posted by WikiLeaks. And Stone himself publicly acknowledged he could soon be charged by Mueller.

So, at some point, Stone decided to release that 2017 book with a new, newsier title: The Myth of Russian Collusion. He also wrote an allegedly “explosive new introduction” for the book, in which he described recent events (prior to his indictment), trashed Mueller, and maintained his innocence. Here are a few representative quotes:

I now find myself on Crooked Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s hit list because I’ve advised Donald Trump for the past forty years. I am being targeted not because I committed a crime, but because the Deep State liberals want to silence me and pressure me to testify against my good friend...

Mr. Mueller may frame me for some bogus charge in order to silence me or induce me to testify against the president... All of this has been a most extraordinary personal nightmare as Mueller has investigated me for over two years, probing deeply into every aspect of my personal, private, family, business, and political life.

None of this is particularly “explosive,” and Stone has said all of it publicly, before the gag order. But neither Stone nor his lawyers seem to have informed Jackson that this re-released book was about to come out until last week — and a recent order from Jackson suggested she was rather perturbed that this was the first she was hearing about this book.

Stone’s lawyers claim the book doesn’t violate the gag order whatsoever. The new introduction, they say, was completed in mid-January, before his indictment. Then, the book was released digitally and “copies” of it were “available at bookstores” on February 19 — two days before the February 21 gag order.

But there are some questions about this timeline. Stone had claimed in an Instagram post on February 18 that the new edition of the book would be “in stores March 1.” That’s the same day his Instagram post about Jackson caused enormous controversy and stoked speculation Stone would soon be gagged. And suddenly, the e-book of the new edition was put online the very next day — perhaps in an attempt to beat an anticipated gag order.

In any event, it certainly seems rather shady of Stone’s team not to disclose to the judge that this book was coming out, through all their many exchanges about Stone’s public statements on the investigation. But if the book was indeed completed and published before Jackson actually handed down the gag order, it would seem difficult to claim that it violates the order.

2) The “Who framed Roger Stone” Instagram story

Perhaps more problematic for Stone is an Instagram story post from his account this weekend (a reference to the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit):

(Stone deleted the post after reporters began discussing whether it violated the gag order.)

In issuing her gag order, Jackson had said that Stone could continue to raise money for his legal defense and that he could keep proclaiming his innocence in general terms.

Does this nod to the idea that Stone is being “framed” go too far? That’s not yet clear. It is rather vague, but it does seem to allude to Stone’s repeated previous statements that Mueller was framing him.

And the special counsel and the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia wanted to make sure the post was brought to Jackson’s attention. “We note for the Court that according to public reporting, on March 3, 2019, the defendant’s Instagram account shared an image with the title “who framed Roger Stone,” they wrote in a filing Monday. In a footnote, they referenced a CNBC article that asserted the post could have violated the gag order.

The next move is up to Jackson. She previously raised the prospect of jailing Stone should he violate the gag order, and said that she would not give him “another chance,” telling him this wasn’t baseball (where he would get three strikes). But she will now have to decide whether the book release or the Instagram post are egregious enough to justify consequences for Stone. A status conference on Stone’s case had previously been scheduled for March 14, so she’ll probably make up her mind by then, if not before.

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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