In the days since a federal judge warned Roger Stone that he could soon face a gag order, Stone has peddled conspiracy theories, claimed he can’t get a fair trial and criticized the judge.
“This is a lynching. This is a legal lynching of me,” Stone said in a recent interview on the fringe right-wing website Infowars.
Stone was arrested last month in a pre-dawn raid and charged with obstruction of justice, making false statements and witness tampering as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. On Friday, federal prosecutors and Stone’s legal team are due to submit briefs on the merits of a gag order.
But rather than toning down his rhetoric, Stone appears to be abiding by the principles he espouses in his books. For instance, Stone’s Rule #81: “Admit Nothing; Deny Everything; Launch Counterattack.”
It’s a dubious legal strategy.
“I would say that it’s a terrible idea for Stone to be doing this,” said CNN legal analyst Shan Wu. “I can’t imagine a worse idea.”
Judge Amy Berman Jackson informed Stone last week that she was considering a gag order. She was quick to put similar restrictions on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s case, which she is also presiding over in Washington. Jackson, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said she was cognizant of Stone’s First Amendment right to free speech, but she wanted to protect his right to a fair trial and ensure it was possible to select an unbiased jury.
Stone’s response, delivered via an Instagram post this week: “I will continue to defend myself unless an Obama appointed judge decides to suspend my first amendment rights.” In another post, Stone exclaimed, “Fair Trial in DC? Impossible.”
Stone, in his public diatribes, has claimed he is being targeted because he works for Infowars and supported Trump. And he has continued his long tradition of hyping fact-free conspiracy theories.
In one Instagram post, Stone is shaking hands William Binney, a former National Security Agency official who has turned into a vocal critic of the agency. “Bill Binney explained to me why the forensic evidence shows the DNC was never hacked by anyone including the Russians,” Stone wrote.
US intelligence agencies have concluded Russian intelligence hacked the DNC and other top Democrats, and used platforms like WikiLeaks to disseminate the stolen material.
Stone concluded his post with a series of hashtags including “#sethrich.”
Seth Rich was a Democratic National Committee staffer who was fatally shot in Washington in 2016. Police said evidence indicates Rich was the victim of a robbery gone wrong. But far-right activists and news organizations spread a conspiracy theory – with no evidence – that Rich was killed for leaking a trove of DNC emails to WikiLeaks.
Both Fox News and the Washington Times ended up retracting stories based on the murder-as-leaking-retribution conspiracy plot, but the lore has lived on, to the devastation of Rich’s family.
As for Stone, he recently settled a lawsuit (unrelated to the Mueller probe) in which he admitted to making false statements on Infowars about a Chinese businessman and apologized for his commentary.
Stone’s attorney and Mueller’s office declined to comment.
Prior legal woes aside, Stone’s eagerness to discuss his case publicly – and in colorful fashion – could make the judge more inclined to put a gag order on the case.
Stone and his attorneys have vowed to fight any such effort and are expected to make the case that Stone’s livelihood depends on his ability to speak freely.
“I make a living writing and speaking,” Stone argued in a recent Infowars appearance. “So they would be depriving me of making a living if I am entirely gagged.”
Jackson appears to have anticipated that defense. In court last Friday, the judge said she was only considering limiting Stone’s ability to talk about the case.
“He would still be free to discuss foreign relations, immigration or Tom Brady,” Jackson said.
If she does crack down on public comments on the case, Stone’s legal team could also appeal the move. Last year, Stone added First Amendment and constitutional law expert Bruce Rogow to his legal team.
Stone may have a solid legal premise for an appeal, Wu said, although most defendants consider it a risky move.
“Most defendants don’t want to do that because they don’t want to run afoul of the judge,” Wu said. “He doesn’t care.”
Indeed, Stone is still racking up appearances and using nearly all of them to hammer the tactics used in the pre-dawn raid at his Florida home.
“This was a show of force, this was something you would expect from Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. It was chilling,” Stone told Infowars.
Stone has also compared the law enforcement presence the morning of his arrest to the forces deployed against drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, known as “El Chapo,” and Osama bin Laden, the former al Qaeda leader who was killed by US Special Forces in a 2011 raid.
Stone’s vocal complaints even sparked a response from ex-convict and former football star O.J. Simpson, who drew on his own experience with FBI raids, according to a video posted on celebrity news website TMZ.
“The FBI can be wrong,” Simpson said, “But to try to compare to El Chapo and Bin Laden? Hey man, Bin Laden was carried out in a bag, not walked out in handcuffs.”
Simpson’s parting words for Stone: “Man up. Stop crying.”