By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A visibly irritated federal judge on Tuesday banned President Donald Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone from posting on social media after prosecutors accused Stone of violating a gag order by repeatedly discussing his case on his Instagram account.
“Your lawyer had to twist the facts, twist the plain meaning of an order and twist himself into a pretzel” to argue that Stone’s social media posts did not violate her order, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Stone.
Jackson said she would not jail Stone for violating the order, saying holding a contempt hearing, which could result in jail time or a fine, would only generate more media attention that could affect potential jurors down the road. But the judge told Stone she could revisit her decision if he violates her orders again.
“So what am I supposed to do with you?” Jackson asked, noting she is “wrestling with behaviour that has more to do with middle school than a court of law.”
During the hearing, Jackson spent about an hour painstakingly reading each one of his posts aloud and asking Stone’s attorney Bruce Rogow if they violated her gag order, before taking an hour recess to weigh how she would rule.
One post, she said, featured a photo of Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, next to a metre saying “bullSchiff.”
Another involved a statement that Stone emailed to Buzzfeed News to deny a statement that Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen made to lawmakers during a congressional hearing.
Stone, a long-time Republican political strategist and self-described “agent provocateur” and “dirty trickster,” is accused by prosecutors of lying to House Intelligence Committee investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as tampering with witnesses.
Stone is scheduled to go to trial in November after pleading not guilty to federal charges of making false statements to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering as part of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Jackson said Stone referred to Schiff as a “duplicitous con man” before adding: “if it’s Schiff, flush it.” The judge then asked if the post was in “contravention” of her order.
Rogow told Jackson he did not think any of the posts violated the judge’s prior order, adding: “I am sorry the court is offended.”
“Mr. Stone has tried to hew to that line, and has he done it in a way that has offended the government? Apparently so,” Rogow added.
Mueller completed his probe in March, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is now handling the prosecution of Stone.
Stone has repeatedly raised Jackson’s ire by making incendiary posts on Instagram and other social media platforms.
At the outset of the case, Jackson imposed narrow restrictions on what Stone could say publicly after the defendant implored her to let him discuss the case because his commentary is part of his livelihood.
But she quickly tightened the reins on his speech in February and ordered him to stop talking about the case, after he posted what appeared to be a threatening photo of her next to the image of gun crosshairs on his Instagram account.
Since then, however, Stone has repeatedly pushed the envelope, with some of his posts linking to articles about the case and asking rhetorical questions.
Prosecutors finally got fed up in June and filed a motion with the court asking Jackson to further restrain Stone from making comments that could poison the jury pool.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Dan Grebler, Susan Heavey and Will Dunham)