Roger Stone Ordered To Court Over Instagram Post Threatening Federal Judge
Roger Stone is being ordered to Court after an Instagram post that appears to be a direct threat against the Judge presiding over his criminal case.
Yesterday, political gadfly and Donald Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone posted an image on Instagram that appeared to threaten Amy Berman Jackson, the judge presiding over his criminal case in Washington, D.C.:
Roger Stone’s Instagram account displayed and then deleted a post showing a picture of the federal judge overseeing his prosecution case and which included an image of a crosshair, often used to denote a target.
The image of U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was posted on the Instagram account of Stone, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, with a message that appeared to be a fundraising appeal for his legal defense costs.
The post was up for about an hour before it was taken down.
Stone later posted a statement on Instagram saying the image had been “misinterpreted.”
“This was a random photo taken from the Internet,” Stone wrote. “Any inference that this was meant to somehow threaten the Judge or disrespect court is categorically false.”
Stone later submitted a formal notice apology to the court, which said that he “recognizes the impropriety” of the post and “had it removed.”
“I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the Court for the transgression,” Stone wrote in the submission.
The initial Instagram post on Stone’s account on Monday slammed Jackson as an Obama-appointed judge.
“Through legal trickery Deep State hitman Robert Mueller has guaranteed that my upcoming show trial is before Judge Amy Berman Jackson , an Obama appointed Judge who dismissed the Benghazi charges again Hillary Clinton and incarcerated Paul Manafort prior to his conviction for any crime,” the caption said.
“Help me fight for my life,” he wrote, adding a website link.
The photo of Jackson in the post has previously circulated on right-wing blogs. It shows Jackson with a crosshair image in the corner of the picture. The symbol is often used to represent a target.
Here’s the post:
Later in the day, Stone’s lawyers filed an apology to Judge Jackson in the case file, but this morning Judge Jackson issued an order compelling Stone to appear in Court with regard to the Instagram post:
The federal judge presiding over Roger Stone’s case said Tuesday she’s considering gagging or jailing the longtime Donald Trump associate after he posted images on Instagram targeting her.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Stone to appear at a Thursday afternoon hearing in Washington, D.C., to explain why his social media posts shouldn’t change the terms of Stone’s bond and why she shouldn’t impose harsh new restrictions on his speech.
Jackson last Friday issued an order allowing Stone to discuss special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election, so long as he does not do so around the D.C. courthouse where his case is being heard.
But the judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said in that order that she’d be paying close attention to Stone’s commentary and didn’t rule out changing the terms.
Stone, who faces charges of lying to Congress and obstructing its investigation into Russian election meddling, put himself in his latest predicament after posting an image of Jackson on Instagram on Monday with what appeared to be crosshairs in the corner.
Writing at The Atlantic attorney Ken White notes just how stupid Stone was here:
Federal criminal defendants are not, as a rule, famed for self-control. But Stone’s attack on the judge presiding over his case is reckless even by his standards. Some have speculated that Stone, always fumbling for an angle, may have wanted to force Jackson to withdraw from the case. That won’t work. Federal courts have long held that a party can’t insult or antagonize a judge and then demand her recusal on the theory that the insults have biased her. That’s why President Trump couldn’t force United States District Judge Gonzalo Curiel off his case with his bigoted and boorish claims that Curiel’s ethnic background disqualified him from hearing the Trump University case. In fact, a party can’t even force a judge off a case by threatening her—and some have tried. The reason is obvious: If a litigant could force a judge to drop a case with deliberate misbehavior, then insults and threats would fly and dockets would descend into chaos.
Though foolhardy, Stone’s attack on Jackson is not, as some have suggested, a violation of Jackson’s recent gag order. Jackson ordered the lawyers in the case not to make statements “that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.” With respect to Stone and the witnesses in the case, Jackson only prohibited misbehavior on the courthouse steps and in the immediate vicinity—thus taking advantage of judges’ power to control their immediate surroundings to assure orderly litigation. Stone’s Instagram post doesn’t qualify.
Other critics quickly proclaimed that Stone had committed a criminal threat or unlawful incitement by posting the picture with a symbol they interpreted as crosshairs. That’s possible, but unlikely. Rhetoric like Stone’s is protected by the First Amendment unless it is designed, and likely, to cause imminentlawless action, such as a speaker urging a crowd to attack nearby protesters. Even if you take Stone’s Instagram post as an attempt to incite, it almost certainly doesn’t urge sufficiently immediate action.
Jackson won’t forget what happened, though, and one day she could be tasked with sentencing Stone. Never gratuitously annoy the person who is deciding how long you’ll spend in federal prison. I shouldn’t have to tell people these things, but here we are.
Stone, of course, was recently indicted and has been charged with lying, witness tampering, and obstruction. While he was arrested in Florida, Stone’s case was quickly transferred to Washington, D.C. where the charges were filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Judge Jackson was assigned to the case when it was filed, and while some have assumed that this is because she also presides over the charges against former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort, the District Court has said that the case against Stone, like all others filed in the court, was assigned randomly and that the assignment to Judge Jackson was just a coincidence. In any case, the most recent development in Stone’s case came Friday when Judge Jackson issued a gag order on Friday, forbidding attorneys, prosecutors, and witnesses in the case from speaking publicly about it. This applied to Stone as well as others, but it was not meant to prevent Stone from talking publicly at all and was not intended to prevent him from posting on social media. At the very least, that is likely to change after Thursday.
Judge Jackson could have a number of options before her when the hearing takes place on Thursday. On the most extreme ends, she could revoke Stone’s bail on the grounds that he is a potential danger to public safety, for example, or she could merely slap him on the wrist and send him on ihs way. Given her actions in the Manafort case, though, that seems unlikely. In that case, Judge Jackson sent Manafort to jail before trial when the Special Counsel produced evidence that he had attempted to tamper with witnesses and, most recently, revoked his plea agreement when it was revealed and established via an evidentiary hearing that he had lied to investigators on Mueller’s team. Given that, Stone is likely in for something serious on Thursday.
To put it mildly, this post by Stone was hardly innocent and his claim that he was unaware of how it would be interpreted. It was clearly intended as a threat on Judge Jackson, albeit one that Stone probably was not serious about. The fact that he might not have been serious, though, doesn’t strike me as being an acceptable excuse. Federal and state court judges have often been the target of vindictive people, and it’s not hard to see how that post could inspire a deranged Trump and Stone supporter to do something dangerous. For that reason alone, I would say that a complete gag order on Stone, while unusual, should be the least of the punishments imposed on him. Threatening Judges is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated, and Jackson should use this case to send that message, albeit while not going over the top. In the meantime, if Stone is stupid enough to do anything like this again then he should spend the rest of the time before his trial in jail.