In the world of politics, being a self-described “dirty trickster” has worked out just fine for Roger Stone. At a hearing Thursday, a judge noted that the longtime Trump adviser earned as much as $47,000 a month as a consultant.
But being a dirty trickster apparently works quite a bit less well in a court of law.
The judge presiding over Stone’s case Thursday eviscerated him for a social media post in which an image of her appeared next to what looked like crosshairs. Stone apologized profusely and argued that he didn’t mean for the post to be threatening, but the judge wasn’t having it.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the post clearly had a “more sinister message” than Stone admitted. “Roger Stone knows full well the power of words and the power of symbols,” she said. “There’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs.”
In other words: Your reputation precedes you, Mr. Stone.
It was difficult to blame Jackson for invoking Stone’s past. Not only is he familiar with the power of political messaging, but he has made a career out of operating on the darker side of it — often using innuendo to project things that aren’t plainly stated. He appears on the conspiracy theory channel Infowars. The idea that Stone would see that image of Jackson and not see the image plainly hovering over her head as something that could lead to violent conclusions is difficult to swallow.
And Jackson didn’t swallow it. She slapped a gag order on him and said the next offense would land him in jail.
“I want to be clear today,” she said. “I gave you a second chance. But this is not baseball. There will not be a third chance.”
She added: “I have serious doubts whether you’ve learned any lesson at all.”
It was the second time in two months that a Trump adviser has run afoul of a judge by trying to undermine the legal process he found himself at the mercy of. Michael Flynn got a similar tongue-lashing from his judge after his lawyers suggested before a sentencing hearing that he had been treated unfairly and even tricked into lying to investigators. They argued this despite Flynn having pleaded guilty to that crime. The judge in that case suggested that he might sentence Flynn to jail time, even though special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team didn’t recommend any.
Somewhat similarly, Paul Manafort recently violated a cooperation agreement by lying to investigators and drew the ire of Mueller’s team by having his lawyers continue to brief President Trump’s. That means three Trump aides have now jeopardized their own legal cases (and freedom) in highly questionable ways — ways that also could benefit Trump.
Stone took the stand at the hearing Thursday and expressed contrition for his actions. He repeatedly called them “stupid” and said he was sorry, but he also denied that the symbol in his Instagram post bore anything more than an unfortunate resemblance to crosshairs. He said he did some research and that it was actually a Celtic symbol, but then confessed he wasn’t all that familiar with it.
The image appears to have come from a website called fbcoverup.com, which features images of Jackson and nearly 500 other figures it says are “evil people” who are “working for a secret rogue C.I.A.” The site now says it is phasing out its use of the “Celtic wheel cross” in favor of a red cross, but that the symbol was meant as a Christian one and not a violent one.
But even if you set aside that image, Stone in his post attacked Jackson’s impartiality as a judge who had been appointed by former president Barack Obama. And after deleting the Instagram post, he continued to push the kind of narratives featured in it, accusing Mueller’s Russia investigation of being illegitimate and his prosecution to be part of the witch hunt.
All of which combined with Stone’s history to make his intentions pretty clear — and his explanation of the post impossible to take at face value.
“Thank you for the apology,” Jackson said, “but it rings quite hollow.”