Roger Stone‘s comments in multiple publications on Wednesday in response to Michael Cohen’s testimony on Capitol Hill has some attorneys thinking he may have already violated a gag order and risked jail before trial.
One prong of Cohen’s testimony related to Stone, WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and a claim about President Donald Trump‘s knowledge of hacked emails in advance of their publication. This clearly struck a nerve with Stone and Assange, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Here’s what Cohen had to say about that in prepared testimony:
“He was a presidential candidate who knew that Roger Stone was talking with Julian Assange about a WikiLeaks drop of Democratic National Committee emails.”
“As I earlier stated, Mr. Trump knew from Roger Stone in advance about the WikiLeaks drop of emails.”
“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’”
The overarching claims are Stone communicated with then-candidate Trump about the WikiLeaks dump of DNC emails that were allegedly hacked by Russian military intelligence officers posing as Guccifer 2.0. in 2016. There has up to now been no evidence to suggest that Stone knew Russia was behind this when he pursued this avenue; the same is true of Trump.
WikiLeaks responded to these claims pretty quickly from its Twitter account, saying, “WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange has never had a telephone call with Roger Stone,” adding, “WikiLeaks publicly teased its pending publications on Hillary Clinton and published > 30k of her emails on 16 March 2016.”
The gagged Roger Stone also quickly responded to Cohen’s remarks, giving statements to multiple reporters.
Stone told BuzzFeed News, “Mr. Cohen’s statement is not true.” Stone told VICE News, “Mr. Cohen’s testimony is entirely untrue.” Stone told the New York Times by phone that “Mr. Cohen’s statement is untrue.” He told ABC News the same thing.
But wait, didn’t Judge Amy Berman Jackson clearly warn Stone that he was not to make any public statements about his case — “period“? It is true that Judge Jackson imposed a seriously enhanced gag order and told Stone that the next strike would be his last, but she also said he can declare his innocence. Reporting on the matter indicates, however, that Stone is allowed to declare his innocence in the context of emails seeking contributions for his defense fund.
“From this moment on, the defendant may not speak publicly about this case — period. No statements about the case on TV, radio, print reporters or internet. No posts on social media,” she said.
Additionally, here’s what the minute order from Judge Jackson from Feb. 19 said:
The conditions of defendant’s pretrial release are hereby modified to include the condition that, and the February 15, 2019 media communications order is hereby modified to provide that, the defendant is prohibited from making statements to the media or in public settings about the Special Counsel’s investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case [emphases ours]. The prohibition includes, but is not limited to, statements made about the case through the following means: radio broadcasts; interviews on television, on the radio, with print reporters, or on internet based media; press releases or press conferences; blogs or letters to the editor; and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media. Furthermore, the defendant may not comment publicly about the case indirectly by having statements made publicly on his behalf by surrogates, family members, spokespersons, representatives, or volunteers. The order to show cause is hereby vacated.
The language of the order says that Stone cannot comment to the media about: Robert Mueller‘s investigation (i.e. say things like the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt”); his case (Stone faces seven counts, including obstruction of an official proceeding, five counts of making false statements, and one count of witness tampering [Randy Credico]); any of the participants in the investigation (Cohen is one, as he pleaded guilty as part of the Mueller probe to lying to Congress).
As a result, it seems that Stone might be in danger of having his pre-trial release conditions revoked.
“Given that his prosecution involves Stone’s communications with Wikileaks/Assange as well as touches upon President Trump’s alleged knowledge, a reasonable interpretation of the Court’s gag order is that it was violated,” national security lawyer Mark Zaid told Law&Crime.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti commented elsewhere that the statement “appears to violate the gag order, although [Stone] will argue that it is a profession of innocence and thus does not violate the order.”
Mariotti said that this was a “foolish” risk, but suspected there wouldn’t be consequences because this was “fairly minor” by Stone’s standards.
Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg also told Newsweek that the “statement probably does violate the gag order,” adding that Stone is “playing with fire.”
Judge Jackson did, indeed, say, “This is not baseball. There will be no third chance,” so “playing with fire” appears to fit.
CNN legal analyst and attorney Ross Garber told Law&Crime that Stone was running “an incredibly high risk” with his comments and hoped that he had consulted with his lawyers before making them.
Law&Crime reached out to Stone attorneys Bruce Rogow, Grant Smith, and Tara Campion to ask if Stone sought their advice before he made comments in the media, but they have not responded.
[Image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]