As a provocative Republican operative and former advisor to President Trump, Roger Stone has always described his political strategy as “attack, attack, attack."
But when Stone went on Instagram to harshly criticize the federal judge overseeing his upcoming trial in the Russia investigation, she quickly fought back.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered Stone to report to court Thursday and explain why she shouldn’t revoke his bail or impose a full gag order in his criminal case.
Stone’s Instagram post, which he later deleted, showed what appeared the crosshairs of a gun sight beside a photograph of Jackson’s head.
Underneath the photo, Stone complained that “legal trickery” had “guaranteed my upcoming show trial” was before Jackson and suggested she was biased against him.
After he deleted the post, Stone reposted the judge’s photo and his criticism without the crosshairs symbol, but he later took that down as well and apologized in a court filing.
“The photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted,” he wrote in a signed document. “I had no intention of disrespecting the Court and humbly apologize to the Court for the transgression.”
Stone dismissed any suggestion that he was trying to threaten the judge as "categorically false." Threatening a federal judge is a felony under U.S. law.
Whatever his intent, Stone’s post was confounding because Jackson last Friday imposed a relatively lenient gag order intended to limit prejudicial publicity that might influence a jury.
She barred Stone, his lawyers, prosecutors and witnesses from publicly discussing his case in and around the courthouse, but she did not issue the kind of strict ban imposed on several other defendants in the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has accused Stone of trying to cover up his conversations involving WikiLeaks, which received hacked Democratic Party emails from Russian operatives and released them at key moments during the presidential campaign.
Stone pleaded not guilty on Jan. 30 to seven criminal charges of making false statements to Congress and tampering with a witness. He was released on $250,000 personal recognizance bond.
For decades, Stone has sought notoriety as a bare-knuckle Republican political consultant by spreading conspiracy theories, excoriating his enemies in harshly personal terms and reveling in his reputation as a dirty trickster.
He had largely faded from public view in recent years but emerged in the spotlight again during the heated 2016 campaign.
Stone’s social media attack on Jackson puzzled and worried his friends and former colleagues, who said he was only hurting his own case.
"It was pretty stupid,” said Sam Nunberg, who worked with Stone on the early days of the Trump campaign. "He has been doing things that have made his situation worse."
He said Stone’s political skills haven’t prepared him for the legal battle he now faces.
"This isn't political at this point. And he can't adapt to this setting,” Nunberg said. “The skills that he has aren't adaptable."
Michael Caputo, a friend and fellow political consultant, said he was at home in New York on Monday when he heard about Stone’s Instagram post.
“The first thing I said was, ‘Oh no,’” he said. "I know that Roger would never call for violence in this situation. But the diagram in the back of the photo that he clipped from the Internet could be easily misinterpreted. It was likely to cause a lot of misunderstanding."
When Jackson issued her limited gag order on Friday, she said she would not advise Stone whether his public statements were in his best interest, but warned they could work against him in future proceedings.
Stone celebrated the order with a self-congratulatory post on Instagram.
“I am grateful that the Judge’s order today leaves my First Amendment Rights intact so that I can defend myself,” he said. “I will, nonetheless continue to be judicious in my comments regarding my case.”