A federal judge on Thursday ordered that longtime Republican operative and Trump confidant Roger Stone may not speak publicly about the investigation or case against him.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington said it would be “foolhardy” to wait for Stone to transgress again in the wake of an Instagram post that appeared to show her photo near crosshairs. The post suggested both she and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose office brought the case against Stone, were biased.
“I’m not giving you another chance,” Jackson told Stone. “I have serious doubts whether you’ve learned any lesson at all.”
If he violates the order in any way, Jackson warned, she will order him to jail.
The judge, who sounded flabbergasted by Stone’s explanations, rejected his claim that the image was not meant to be threatening.
“Roger Stone knows full well the power of words and the power of symbols. There is nothing ambiguous about crosshairs,” she said. “If the judge’s appearance alone was important to convey some message . . . a perfectly neutral photograph can be found on the court’s website.”
Stone took the stand during the hearing to apologize for the post and ask that he be allowed to keep talking about his upcoming trial. He is accused of trying to cover up his efforts to gather information concerning hacked Democratic Party emails during the 2016 campaign.
“I’m sorry that I abused your trust,” Stone told Jackson. “I’m heartfully sorry. . . . I can only beseech you to give me a second chance.”
Stone, 66, said the “lapse of judgment was an outgrowth of the extreme stress of the situation.” He said facing criminal charges for the first time in his life has put him under severe emotional and financial strain.
Jackson was not moved. “Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow,” she said. Based on his subsequent statements and actions, she said, “I don’t find any of the evolving and contradictory explanations credible.”
She said Stone was “fanning the flames” and “chose to use his public platform . . . to incite others who may be less constrained.” Alluding to the charges against a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of plotting a terrorist attack, she said Stone’s post could have sparked violence: “You don’t have to read the paper beyond today to know that that’s a possibility.”
The atmosphere in the courtroom during the hearing was thick with tension. Courthouse security personnel hovered by the five full rows of courtroom benches.
Both Jackson and prosecutor Jonathan Kravis grilled Stone on how he found the image and why he posted it. Stone gave inconsistent answers, saying first that it was posted by a volunteer and then that a volunteer sent him the image but he posted it himself. He said he can’t remember who gave him the picture or the names of everyone who has access to his phone.
“How hard is it to find an image without crosshairs?” an incredulous Jackson asked Stone.
“I didn’t recognize it as a crosshairs — I didn’t even notice it until it was brought to my attention by a reporter,” Stone said. He said, as he has before, that he believes it was a “Celtic cross” or “occult symbol,” based on subsequent research.
Asked for elaboration on the symbol, he replied, “I don’t know your honor; I’m not into the occult.”
Jackson also repeatedly asked Stone why, if he immediately regretted the posting, he went on to defend it in media interviews.
“I felt the media was falsely saying that I was posing a danger, which was not my intention, and this was not a crosshairs in my opinion,” Stone responded. “I had no malicious intention.”
Jackson also pressed Stone on why he apologized to her in a letter Monday if he did not mean the image to be threatening. Stone said the apology was drafted by his attorneys and signed by him during a doctor’s appointment and that he had not read it carefully. But, he said, “it was improper for me to criticize at all, I recognize that.”
The post said Stone faced a “show trial” in Jackson’s courtroom after his indictment stemming from the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Stone, who already had been under a limited gag order imposed by Jackson, said in court that he was “having trouble putting the food on the table and making rent” and needed to be able to make money as a commentator. According to Jackson, he had told pretrial services that his consulting income was $47,000 a month. She asked whether anyone was paying him to talk about his criminal case, and he said no.
Kravis supported the expanded gag order, arguing that both the post and Stone’s subsequent public comments “amounts to . . . a desire to manipulate media coverage . . . thereby threatening to taint the jury pool.”
Under the judge’s ruling, Stone can continue to raise funds for his defense and speak on other matters.
The initial picture was deleted from Stone’s account soon after it went online Monday and reposted again without the background image. Then that post, too, was deleted.
After the ruling, Stone walked with both hands in his pockets to the front row of the courtroom’s gallery. A slight smile crossed his face. He raised his eyebrows looking out at the audience. His daughter, Adria Stone, a Florida nurse, leaned across the railing and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Stone lingered there for a moment before turning to his wife, Nydia, and kissing her on the cheek.
Stone left the courtroom arm in arm with his wife as courthouse security officers herded several dozen reporters against the hallway walls to clear a path.
Stone has pleaded not guilty and is out on a $250,000 bond, allowed to travel between South Florida, Washington and New York City. He was previously allowed to discuss the case publicly, just not in the immediate vicinity of the D.C. federal courthouse.
He was indicted in January on charges of obstructing justice, lying and witness tampering in what prosecutors said was an effort to hide repeated attempts to get information about plans to release the hacked Democratic emails. By itself, those actions may not constitute a crime, but authorities say Stone lied to Congress when asked about them. U.S. officials say the hacked emails were taken by Russian intelligence officials and then shared with the global anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, whose founder, Julian Assange, made them public.
According to the indictment, Stone reached out to the group through an intermediary for information on the hacked emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official. He then allegedly lied to congressional staff investigators and encouraged another person to do the same, according to the court records.