The federal judge overseeing the Roger Stone case is considering a gag order, she said at a hearing in Washington on Friday.
“This is a criminal proceeding and not a public relations campaign,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in a brief hearing.
Jackson cautioned Stone, a longtime Republican campaign adviser and confidant of President Donald Trump, against treating the buildup to the trial “like a book tour” and reminded him he should not argue his case “on the talk show circuit.”
She also said that if a gag order is imposed, that wouldn’t limit all of Stone’s public speaking. He and others in the case, Jackson said, could still “discuss foreign relations, immigration or Tom Brady.”
Jackson, who handles several cases related to the Mueller investigation, previously imposed a gag order over former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s criminal case restricting Manafort’s team’s public statements.
Both sides will be given a chance to respond to Jackson by next Friday.
Whether the judge would put restrictions on what Stone can say about his charges has been one of the biggest questions at the beginning of Stone’s legal challenge. As one of the more outlandish Trump advisers to face charges – and who has for decades used the media to sway public opinion – Stone has said he’d fight back against any court order limiting his speech.
“No gag order! I will fight and the deep state is in panic mode! Onward …,” he wrote on Instagram days before the hearing.
Manafort, another high-profile defendant in the Mueller probe and a longtime contact of Stone’s, was gagged early in the case by the same judge, then received warnings from her several times about it. He was ultimately jailed in June after prosecutors alleged he had attempted to sway the testimony of potential witnesses against him.
Stone sat nearly silently throughout Friday’s hearing, wearing a dark pinstripe suit and an occasional frown. He betrayed only slight emotion when Jackson discussed her consideration of a gag order, raising his eyebrows and lifting his chin. For the rest of the hearing, Stone was mostly expressionless, including when Jackson referenced Brady.
Stone’s daughter sat alone in the first row of the audience and walked out with him and his attorneys after the hearing. Stone told reporters he was feeling “excellent” as he left but would not offer an opinion on a potential gag order. His attorneys also declined comment, pointing toward their upcoming brief on the issue.
Stone was charged last week with seven counts of lying to Congress, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He has pleaded not guilty.
Jackson specifically noted how Stone has spoken publicly about the case since his arrest –which received a fair amount of attention. Stone’s interviews generated publicity so far and he may have felt justified to push back after his arrest. But Jackson said she wants to make sure the amount of publicity before a trial wouldn’t bias any jury that’s seated.
Stone “may be well known,” the judge said, but only in certain circles.
She also reminded him that any inconsistencies Stone has had when speaking publicly could be introduced as evidence at his trial.
“It’s my responsibility to make sure he has a fair trial,” Jackson said.
Trial date discussion
The parties briefly discussed when a trial would be set for Stone.
The Justice Department said it would prefer an October trial date, while Jackson countered that she thought the case would go to trial in July or August.
Jackson said she plans to discuss the trial schedule at the next hearing in the case, set for March 14.
Warned not to contact witnesses
At one point during the hearing, Jackson addressed Stone directly, warning him that as part of his bail, he is prohibited from contacting any potential witnesses or victims in his case. That included emails, text messages, Instagram posts, WhatsApp messages or even using intermediaries besides his lawyers to pass messages, she said.
“Is that understood, Mr. Stone?” Yes, your honor,” Stone replied clearly.
Prosecutor Michael Marando from the DC US Attorneys’ office declined to reveal publicly who exactly those people are whom Stone shouldn’t contact while fighting his charges. Instead, the prosecutors will file a list of names under seal with the court.
Jackson sent Manafort to jail after he attempted to contact witnesses in his case and tried to shape their testimony, so this is not unfamiliar ground for the judge.
The Justice Department said that evidence from Stone’s computer and accounts go back “several years,” and that the FBI seized electronic devices from Stone’s home, apartment and office.
Stone’s charges stem from statements he made to congressional investigators about his attempts to communicate with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election about stolen Democratic emails the organization planned to release. In his indictment, prosecutors say Stone coordinated with Trump campaign officials about the outreach.
Stone became the sixth Trump adviser to face charges in the special counsel’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and the 37th person or entity in total charged by special counsel Robert Mueller. Stone and the Russian company Concord Management and Consulting are the only two currently fighting their charges.
CNN’s David Shortell contributed to this report.