After a half-century as a self-described “trafficker in the black arts,” political consultant Roger Stone may soon be brought to heel.
Stone is charged, among other crimes, with allegedly making false statements to investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. But Stone took his act a step too far when he posted a close-up photo of the federal judge in his case, Amy Berman Jackson, with what appeared to be crosshairs near her head.
He included suggestions that Jackson was a partisan Democrat and that the case was a “show trial.”
Stone took down the offensive post almost immediately and issued a “humble” apology, a step that suggested that he knows his prosecution is no laughing matter.
But it wasn’t soon enough for Jackson, who issued an order Tuesday morning requiring Stone to show at a hearing on Thursday why she shouldn’t modify his gag order or even send him to jail immediately.
Stone is no doubt keenly aware that when Jackson issued an similar order to “show cause” to Paul Manafort, she sent Manafort directly to jail, from which he has yet to emerge. Now Stone has to pray that he walks out of court Thursday.
He will at the very least receive a severe tongue-lashing and an admonition, underlined and in bold, that he is down to his last chance.
Jackson’s original gag order was an attempt to balance Stone’s rights to speak his mind as a defendant in a criminal case with the imperative of a fair trial.
From the court’s standpoint, Stone’s public statements (and provocations) carry the potential of warping the jury pool, injecting prejudice against the prosecution into the trial.
Although Stone may not have realized it, the original gag order was designed to cut him a break. It gave him an open field to comment on anything he chose besides the trial, and a fair bit of running room to talk about the trial and charges themselves.
Jackson’s order made it clear that what he couldn’t do was conduct a public campaign against his trial on the courthouse steps, as he did when he left the court following his preliminary appearance, flashing the Nixon “V" for victory sign and trashing special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s probe. Those displays garner wider press coverage and cast the court itself in a political light.
Stone’s post forces Jackson to reconsider the terms of her gag order. Even if she does not alter it officially, it seems all but certain that she will put Stone on a much tighter leash.
For Stone, it will be a lesson in the enormous difference between the political arena and a court of law.