The federal judge overseeing the criminal case against longtime Trump friend Roger Stone said yesterday she is considering whether to impose a gag order after Stone went on a week-long media blitz to discuss the allegations against him.
US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told prosecutors and Stone's attorneys to file any opposition to such a directive by next Friday. Stone, a political operative who relishes press attention, has said he worries about a possible gag order because his career is in speaking and writing.
Jackson's comment came as Stone returned to federal court in Washington on Friday for a scheduling hearing after pleading not guilty this week to charges in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
The judge said Stone might have been justified in making his position clear after his arrest, but added that she needed to ensure he received a fair trial.
"This is a criminal proceeding, not a public-relations campaign," Jackson said, threatening to cut off public comments by parties and attorneys about the case. "I believe it's better for counsel and parties to do their talking in pleadings, not on courthouse steps, not on the talk show circuit."
Stone, 66, a longtime GOP operative and self-described "dirty trickster," entered Courtroom 3 wearing a charcoal gray suit with broad pinstripes and a billowing paisley pocket square. He sat with two lawyers to his right at the defendant's table.
After he the hearing, he declined to say to a reporter what he thought of a potential gag order.
"They told me no interviews in the building," he said, grinning.
Asked if he'd be speaking outside, he said, "No, too dangerous."
Stone is charged with lying about his efforts to gather information concerning hacked Democratic Party emails that were published by the WikiLeaks organisation. Stone has pleaded not guilty and vowed to fight the charges.
A gag order would not be entirely surprising; Jackson issued such a directive during Mueller's prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which was a similarly high-profile case. But muzzling Stone might be more consequential.
In the months he has been under investigation, Stone has given numerous interviews, and has vigorously attacked prosecutors' case as he has sought to raise money for his defense. As recently as Thursday, he hosted a news conference to take questions from reporters.
Jackson told Stone that prosecutors could use anything he said in public about his case against him, including by comparing it to previous statements. She also said that if Stone continues to speak out on his case, journalists could reasonably feel obligated to repeat the charges and evidence against him.
"Right now, I believe we will be able to seat an unbiased jury," Jackson said. But "the upshot" of Stone's statements and coverage of them could be that "we end up with an even larger percentage the of jury pool tainted by publicity than we have now."
The judge said she was not contemplating limiting Stone's public commentary on other matters unrelated to the subjects of the case.
"He can discuss foreign relations, immigration or Tom Brady as much as he wants to," Jackson said.
It remains unclear how soon Stone could go to trial. Prosecutors said they had discussed possible October dates with Stone's defense, but Jackson said she was hoping for July. She set another hearing date in the case for March 14.
Stone spoke aloud twice during the 20-minute hearing.
"Yes, your honour," he said when she asked if he could hear a bench conference through earphone.
"I do," he said later, swearing to abide by the conditions of his pretrial release.
Ahead of Friday's hearing, prosecutors and Stone's defense lawyers agreed in court filings on a proposed protective order to keep secret evidence turned over by the government, and to waive Stone's normal speedy trial rights, citing the case's complexity.
The government said it will provide the defense with hard drives containing "terabytes" of data, including search warrants for Apple iCloud accounts and email accounts, bank and financial records, and contents of Stone's devices such as cellphones, computers and storage drives spanning "several years."
The government said it also plans to turn over the contents of devices seized last week from Stone's home, apartment and office.
Stone is free on a $250,000 personal recognisance bond on the condition that he not possess or apply for a passport and not travel outside southern Florida, the Washington area and New York City.
Prosecutors charge that in 2016, Stone repeatedly sought to learn when potentially damaging internal emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign would be released. By itself, those actions may not constitute a crime, but Stone is accused of lying to Congress when asked about the efforts. He also is charged with obstruction and witness tampering.
US authorities in July indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officers on charges they hacked Democrats' computers, stole data and shared those files to disrupt the 2016 election.
In Stone's indictment, prosecutors charged that after the initial July 22, 2016, release of stolen emails, "a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1" had regarding the Clinton campaign.
The indictment does not name the campaign official or who directed the alleged outreach to Stone. People familiar with the case identified "Organization 1" as WikiLeaks, the global anti-secrecy group founded by Julian Assange.
Stone has repeatedly denied any contact with Russia or WikiLeaks. He has said that he had no advance knowledge of what material WikiLeaks held and that predictions he made about the group's plans were based on Assange's public comments and tips from associates.
Stone and WikiLeaks and Assange have said they never communicated with each other.
In a Thursday interview with the New York Times, the newspaper reported that Trump said he never spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks and the stolen emails it posted, and said he never instructed anyone to get in touch with Stone about WikiLeaks.
Stone, a veteran GOP operative and friend of Trump's for four decades, briefly advised the presidential campaign in 2015 and remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election.