Roger Stone Hit With Sweeping Social-Media Gag Order

WASHINGTON (CN) – Imposing a social-media blackout on the president’s longtime supporter, a federal judge opted to deal with Roger Stone’s gag-order defiance Tuesday as she would a disobedient middle schooler.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had already expanded what had been a more limited order in February, after Stone posted on Instagram a picture of Judge Jackson with crosshairs of a gun beside her head.

“I can tell you that, given what went into that order, you have a long row to hoe,” Jackson said in court this morning as counsel for Stone attempted to defend his conduct.

Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, arrives with his wife, Nydia Stone, at federal court in Washington on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz)

Prosecutors say the February gag did not do the trick, with Stone continuing to thrash in the public eye about his case or the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Flagging several Instagram posts that shared content from other parties and tagged major news outlets like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, prosecutors accused Stone of deliberately working to generate press coverage.  

Jackson agreed, noting that Stone knows full well the power and purpose of social media.

“Mr. Stone was not content to leave those posts out there unread, unliked,” Jackson said.

“Maybe his lawyers don’t understand it, but he does,” Jackson continued, emphasizing that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are intended to disseminate content to a wider audience.

In court this morning where Stone appeared in a blue seersucker suit, the judge ran through instances of such communications from the last three months.

One example involved Stone texting a Buzzfeed reporter to dispute what Michael Cohen said about him in testimony to Congress. He also posted a photo to Instagram of former CIA Director John Brennan with the caption, “this psycho must be charged.” 

After conferring with Stone about each example, defense attorney Bruce Rogow held firm that Stone was not making public statements on the case but merely commenting on other parties’ statements.  

“Isn’t the point of those to try to disseminate his point of view that ‘my indictment is invalid because the whole Russian hacking was a hoax,’” Jackson asked.

Answering no, Rogow said the government had exaggerated its concern that Stone risked prejudicing a future jury with his posts.

“Not one of these are the kind of thing that have any reasonable basis for affecting a fair trial,” the lawyer said.

Rogow urged Jackson to lift the gag order, saying it dangerously restricts Stone’s right to freedom of expression.

The argument fell flat with the judge. As she read her decision this afternoon, banning Stone’s use of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for any purpose, Jackson said the defense had to twist the facts to make their case.

The move had support from Department of Justice attorney Aaron Zelinsky.

“No matter how clear a line the court draws the defendant will cross it,” Zelinsky said. 

Stone has pleaded not guilty to obstructing justice, lying to Congress on seven occasions and witness tampering involving his attempts to contact WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in 2016, part of an attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and help then-candidate Trump.

In addition to the gag order, today’s hearing looked at whether the now-released Mueller report undermined the basis for which investigators obtained warrants to search Stone’s house on the day of his arrest.

Defense attorney Robert Buschel argued that Mueller’s report disproved a “suspected nexus to Russia” involving WikiLeaks and Stone.

Calling the agents investigating Stone “reckless” for relying on information from the U.S. intelligence community, Buschel said the government did not in fact have “high confidence” in the assumption that Russia provided stolen data to WikiLeaks at the time the warrants were issued.

“It’s real government-filled double-speak,” Buschel said, referencing George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984.”

But Jackson said it was an error for Stone’s team to focus on the conclusion of the Mueller report. To negate probable cause, rather, they needed to show that federal agents made false statements in obtaining any of the 18 warrants in the case.

“I’m sitting with them in a binder that you gave me,” Jackson said. “I want you to read me a false statement.”

Buschel struggled to do so, later consulting with his co-counsel to provide two examples that did not satisfy Jackson.

The lawyer repeated that the Mueller report exonerated Stone.

“Dissemination of stolen material is not a crime,” Buschel said citing New York Times Co. v. United States, a Supreme Court ruling that allowed news outlets to publish the then-classified Pentagon Papers.

Turning to the prosecutors, Jackson asked if they would need to prove Russia hacked the Democratic National Convention when Stone goes to trial in November.

Zelinsky denied this on the basis that the government had not charged Stone with involvement in the hacking. He said the premise of Buschel’s claim was unfounded regardless.

“There is voluminous evidence that Russia was responsible for the hacking of the DNC,”  Zelinsky added.

Jackson did not address the issue of the special counsel’s finding in her later announcement to expand the gag order. She said a hearing to find Stone in contempt would be a waste of the court’s resources and that she is not inclined at this time to revoke his bond release.

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