Judge gags Roger Stone from Mueller comments around D.C. courthouse
Mueller’s team also released a filing in the case that suggested federal prosecutors might have obtained ‘Stone’s communications’ with WikiLeaks.
02/15/2019 03:06 PM EST
Roger Stone remains free to talk about Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation, just not in and around the Washington, D.C., courthouse where the longtime Donald Trump associate is fighting the special counsel’s charges he lied to Congress and obstructed its Russia investigation.
That’s the end result from a four-page order issued Friday from a federal judge who had been considering a complete gag order on Stone in the wake of his full-on media blitz since his arrest last month in south Florida.
Also Friday, Mueller’s team released a filing in the case that included a tantalizing nugget suggesting federal prosecutors might have obtained “Stone’s communications” with WikiLeaks, the website that dumped stolen Democratic emails during the election. While the language was somewhat vague, legal watchers quickly noted that it might represent a jarring new revelation, as previously Stone had only conceded to trying to connect with WikiLeaks via intermediaries.
The double-barrel developments in Stone’s case came amid a flurry of activity late on Friday, marking the busiest day yet in a court battle that still remains in a preliminary stage.
First, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that attorneys for Stone, Mueller and any witnesses in the case “must refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case.”
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As for Stone, the judge said he could keep talking about the case with the caveat that she could change her mind and amend her order “if necessary.”
She also lumped Stone in with all the parties in the case and potential witnesses when they are around the D.C. courthouse. In those circumstances, Jackson cautioned that any comments must not “pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case” and cannot be “intended to influence any juror, potential juror, judge, witness or court officer or interfere with the administration of justice.”ADVERTISING
Jackson concluded her ruling on the gag order question with a warning that Stone should consider that any excessive public comments he makes may come back to bite him.
“While it is not up to the court to advise the defendant as to whether a succession of public statements would be in his best interest at this time, it notes that one factor that will be considered in the evaluation of any future request for relief based on pretrial publicity will be the extent to which the publicity was engendered by the defendant himself,” Jackson wrote.
Stone continues to face restrictions about contacting potential witnesses in his trial.
Jackson’s order in the Stone case doesn’t go as far as the one she issued in the fall of 2017 on Paul Manafort, his longtime business partner Rick Gates and their attorneys. There, she limited their commenting about the case just days after they were initially indicted in the Mueller probe.
For Stone, the prospect of a complete gag order was a daunting scenario for the longtime GOP campaign operative and frequent TV commentator who hosts his own regular webcast. He has been a ubiquitous media presence since his indictment last month, starting with a call to the conspiracy theory website InfoWars to give his first interview following the arrest.
By MATTHEW CHOI
The media hits have only continued since then, including a series of interviews with the major television and cable networks, impromptu press conferences from his driveway, email missives seeking donations for his legal defense fund and dozens of social media posts critical of the case.
In an email to POLITICO, Stone welcomed Jackson’s ruling.
“I am pleased that the judge’s order leaves my First Amendment right to defend myself in public intact,” he said. “I will of course continue to be judicious about my comments regarding the case.”
Later, another notable development came buried in a Mueller response to Stone’s objection that the case was assigned to Jackson, who is also overseeing another case involving 11 Russian military officials whom Mueller has accused of hacking into the Democratic Party’s computer systems to sabotage the presidential election.
Stone’s attorneys had argued that their case should be assigned randomly, insisting it was unrelated to the Russia hacking case. But the special counsel countered by explaining that the two cases shared common search warrants.
“Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications … with [WikiLeaks],” the document read.
The detail jumped out because it indicted Mueller might have direct communications between Stone and WikiLeaks, something he has denied.
The special counsel also explained that Stone’s indictment deals with his alleged efforts — through false statements, withheld documents and witness tampering — to obstruct the congressional investigation into the stolen Democratic emails.
“In other words, the criminal conduct alleged [in the Russian hacking case] was a central focus of the congressional investigation that the defendant is alleged to have obstructed, and therefore the activities underlying the crimes charged in that case are part of the same activities underlying the crimes charged in this case,” Mueller’s team wrote.
Stone’s alleged false statements “did not arise in a vacuum,” the special counsel added. They came in the middle of a congressional investigation that was examining possible links between the Russian military officials, people “associated with the dumping of materials,” including WikiLeaks and Americans like Stone.
Addressing the underlying dispute over whether she should be the judge in the case, Jackson on Friday issued a one-paragraph order saying she’d take “no action” on Stone’s objection to her assignment.
That decision wasn’t the only one Jackson issued during a frenetic Friday.
Addressing aseparate motion filed Thursday by Stone’s lawyers claiming Mueller should be held in contempt over allegations his team prematurely released Stone’s sealed indictment, Jackson ordered the special counsel to detail “the precise timing and content” of the press release where the special counsel first broke the news.
Stone’s attorneys say Mueller posted the indictment publicly several hours before the court formally unsealed it. The special counsel’s press release, sent in an email with a 6:16 a.m. time stamp on January 25 — several minutes after Stone’s arrest — said the indictment had been “unsealed upon arrest.”Share on FacebookShare on Twitter
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the extent of Berman’s order about who is gagged from speaking about the case.
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