Trump Political Advisor Argues Against Gag Order Before His Criminal Trial
WASHINGTON — Political advisor Roger Stone is setting up a First Amendment free speech challenge during his pre-trial proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
He told a federal judge Friday that she had no constitutional right to silence him with a gag order she is considering. He also asked that she be removed from the case.
Stone is charged with lying to Congress about his efforts to publicize information embarrassing to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He pleaded not guilty on Feb. 1.
Since being arrested by the FBI on Jan. 25, he has informally argued his innocence in interviews outside courthouses, on cable television and over the Internet.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson warned Stone during the Feb. 1 hearing that he risked tainting the jury pool with his media blitz. Stone has refused to keep quiet, instead hiring lawyers to defend his free speech rights.
Stone was a strategist for the 2016 campaign of President Donald Trump when he allegedly spoke with Julian Assange, founder of the investigative news site Wikileaks. During the campaign, Wikileaks released information stolen from the Democratic National Committee that hurt Clinton’s campaign against Trump.
U.S. intelligence agencies say Russian agents hacked the information from Democratic Party computers.
Prosecutors have said in court filings that Stone’s case is “part of the same alleged criminal event or transaction.”
Stone denies any contacts with Wikileaks or obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russians.
The gag order Jackson is considering would prohibit Stone from talking about his case publicly.
Stone and his attorneys tried to argue in a pleading filed Friday that he was not adequately famous to represent a threat to the integrity of his trial. Kim Kardashian was famous, but not Stone, the court filing says.
“While Roger Stone may be familiar to those who closely follow American politics, he is hardly ubiquitous in the larger landscape of popular consciousness,” the filing says. “Kim Kardashian has 59.5 million followers on Twitter. By contrast, Roger Stone has no Twitter account at all and, thus has no Twitter followers. On Instagram, Kim Kardashian has 126 million followers. Roger Stone’s Instagram following amounts to 39 thousand subscribers.”
Stone’s lawyers also argued the case should be re-assigned randomly to another judge because prosecutors helped select Jackson as someone likely to be unsympathetic toward the political advisor.
Jackson is an Obama administration appointee who also presided over the case of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. Both Manafort and Stone were arrested based on information gathered by Justice Department Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.
During the Friday hearing, Jackson decided to give the Mueller investigation prosecutors until Feb. 15 to respond to the request for a different judge. She did not announce a decision Friday on a gag order for Stone.
Stone’s attorneys also argued that a gag order would be an “unconstitutional violation of Stone’s right to work, to pursue his livelihood and to be part of the public discourse.”
Their court filing added, “To foreclose Mr. Stone’s exercise of his First Amendment rights on any subject would serve no compelling governmental interest,” Stone’s legal team added. “No evidence exists that would provide a clear and convincing basis for concluding that any of Mr. Stone’s free speech exercise presents a clear and present danger to a fair trial and that no alternative is available to protect his right to a fair trial.”
Stone remains free on a $250,000 bond. The case is U.S. v. Stone, 19-cr-18, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia.
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