A federal judge who has warned Roger Stone to stop criticizing the criminal case against him on social media finally banned him from the platforms outright.
Prosecutors had complained to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the longtime Republican party operative and former adviser to President Donald Trump has been using social media to assail the government’s case, in violation of her February directive that he limit his comments to professing his innocence.
Jackson read her new ruling from the bench, following a 45-minute recess from a contentious two-hour hearing.
“I’ve twice given you the benefit of the doubt,” she told Stone, alluding to prior infractions, then added that he’d now forced his lawyers into contortions to contend he was in compliance with her prior order.
Reprising a theme she raised in the case of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jackson said Stone’s behavior “had more to do with middle school than with a court of law” and banned him from posting on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and even from reposting or liking other people’s content on the platforms.
Stone is accused of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks over its publication of material damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. He is also charged with obstruction and witness tampering.
Stone’s was the last indictment brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The case is now being prosecuted by the office of Washington U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu and is set for trial in November.
Before issuing her final order, Jackson engaged in a prolonged sparring session with Stone counsel Bruce Rogow, who denied that his client had run afoul of the judge’s prior ruling, even as she peppered him with Instagram posts and other examples of Stone’s behavior she found questionable.
“I don’t think any of these things pose a threat to a fair trial,” Rogow told her.
Stopping short of asking the court to send the political provocateur to jail, prosecutor Jonathan Kravis raised the idea of Jackson barring him from using social media. “What we are most concerned about is protecting the integrity of the jury pool,” he said.
Ultimately the judge did just that, scolding the defense for its effort to “ignore the exponential power” of social media and particularly what it means for Stone to take an item published by someone else and spread it “with his imprimatur.”
During an earlier portion of the Tuesday court hearing, Stone’s lawyers argued that the government can’t prove Russian agents hacked Democratic Party computers during the election, rendering 18 FBI search warrants based on that premise invalid and the evidence collected under them subject to exclusion.
Defense attorney Robert Buschel told the judge the warrants weren’t obtained in good faith. He said they were based only on reports by a private cybersecurity firm and the U.S. intelligence community’s “high confidence” that the Russians were behind the theft of materials later published by WikiLeaks, not on factual certainty.
Buschel called it “government doublespeak,” suggesting the theft was just as likely to have been carried out by agents of China or the U.K.
That line of argument drew a pointed response from Jackson, who repeatedly asked Buschel to identify a single statement in any of the filings that he saw as knowingly false or reckless — and what that had to do with the charges against Stone.
“I’m asking you now,” Jackson said after a series of exchanges with the attorney. “I want you to read me a false sentence.”
Stone’s lawyers have sought to discredit the Russia connection by suggesting that metadata on the WikiLeaks documents came from a portable memory device connected to a computer from which they were downloaded and not through a trans-Atlantic computer connection.
Even accepting that premise, Jackson asked, how would that invalidate the warrants?
Buschel replied that lack of conclusive proof of Russian hacking rendered Stone’s allegedly false statements to the congressional committee probing the incursion “irrelevant.”
Prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky defended the warrants, telling Jackson that Stone’s lawyers were “trying to backdoor a debunked conspiracy theory” about other potential hackers, relieving the Russians of culpability.
“There is voluminous evidence that the Russians were responsible for hacking” the Democratic Party computers, Zelinsky told the judge. In any event, he said, Stone was charged with lying to Congress and other offenses, not with being involved in the hacking.
The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).