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Judge restricts social media use of Trump friend Roger Stone

UPDATED: Tue., July 16, 2019, 6:09 p.m.

Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife Nydia Stone, left, arrives at federal court in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Sait Serkan Gurbuz / AP)
Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, accompanied by his wife Nydia Stone, left, arrives at federal court in Washington, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. (Sait Serkan Gurbuz / AP)
By Eric Tucker Associated Press

WASHINGTON – No more Instagram for Roger Stone. Facebook and Twitter are out, too.

A federal judge barred Stone from posting on social media Tuesday after concluding that the longtime confidant of President Donald Trump repeatedly flouted her gag order. Stone, who is charged with lying in the Russia investigation, has used social media repeatedly to disparage the case against him and the broader election interference probe.

Though U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson did not send Stone to jail or find him in contempt, she made clear her anger over behavior that she said was more appropriate for middle school than a court of law.

“You’ve shown me that you’re unwilling to stop talking about the investigation, which means that you’re unwilling to conform your conduct to the orders of the court,” the exasperated judge said as she wondered aloud “what am I supposed to do” with Stone.

The social media ban lasts for the duration of the criminal case and extends well beyond an earlier order from February that restricted him from publicly commenting on the case. That order, which Jackson said was “clear as day,” was imposed after Stone posted a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.

“The defendant plainly seeks attention, positive or negative,” Jackson said. “It seems that he is determined to make himself the subject of the story.”

The arguments underscored how some of the Trump aides charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation have repeatedly tested the limits of the court with unorthodox behavior. They also showed the continued resistance by Stone, a provocative personality with tens of thousands of Instagram followers, at efforts to silence him or prevent him from publicly asserting his innocence or attacking the investigation.

While most defendants normally look to avoid the government’s ire, Stone has regularly thumbed his nose at the prosecution with Instagram posts that denigrate the Mueller investigation. Another defendant, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, was jailed before trial after Jackson found that he had improperly contacted a witness in the case. And George Papadopoulos, another ex-aide, publicly attacked the Mueller probe after his sentencing last year.

Stone is charged with witness tampering and lying to congressional lawmakers in their investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He has pleaded not guilty. A jury trial has been tentatively scheduled for this fall.

Since the original gag order, he’s made a series of posts on Instagram that have caught prosecutors’ attention.

In court Tuesday, Jackson went through Stone’s posts one-by-one with defense lawyer Bruce Rogow as she assessed whether they ran afoul of her order. The posts included screenshots of news coverage calling into question the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had hacked Democratic email accounts. Another post asked “Who Framed Roger Stone?” a riff on the popular 1980s film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”

“I understand how one can look at them and come to the conclusion that, yes, they were at the line or crossed the line,” Rogow said. “But Mr. Stone has tried to hew the line.”

Rogow argued that Stone was using social media to communicate to others what is happening in the case, “but not doing it in a way to infect or affect what the whole underlying reason is for the court order” – to ensure an impartial jury and a fair trial.

But Jackson said another, more basic question was of concern: whether Stone violated her original order.

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