Right-wing media outlets, led by Trump allies at Infowars and Fox News, have waged a months-long campaign to interfere with criminal proceedings against Roger Stone. Now that Stone has been convicted of seven felonies and is facing the possibility of significant jail time, his conservative and far-right media defenders are drumming up support for President Donald Trump to pardon him.
Longtime Trump confidant and friend Stone, who prosecutors argued committed his crimes in a bid to protect Trump, will be sentenced in federal court on February 20, though Trump could issue a pardon at any time. In recent days, Stone’s case has been thrown into chaos, as leaders at the Department of Justice have meddled with the sentencing recommendations of the DOJ line prosecutors who tried Stone in court, resulting in all four prosecutors withdrawing from the case.
After Stone was arrested, he used his Infowars platform to publicly litigate his case
Stone was arrested in Florida on January 25, 2019, during an early morning FBI raid of his house and subsequently charged with seven felonies related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, including lying to Congress, intimidating a witness, and obstructing an official proceeding. After appearing in court that day and being released on his own recognizance, he made his first media appearance on Infowars, where at the time he was a co-host of the weekday afternoon show War Room. Speaking with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Stone denied he had committed any crimes and promised not to testify against Trump, saying, “There’s no circumstance in which I would bear false witness against the president.” (In December 2018, Trump had faced allegations of witness tampering after he approvingly tweeted a purported quote from Stone that said, “I will never testify against Trump.”) Stone also promoted his legal defense fund several times.
Stone’s immediate run to Infowars made sense. The outlet had already been doing damage control for Stone as it became increasingly apparent he was in legal jeopardy. Infowars had been waging a public relations campaign against former Infowars employee Jerome Corsi in an attempt to pin any 2016 election-related wrongdoing on Corsi -- who at the time appeared to have significant legal exposure from Mueller -- rather than Stone. Part of the pressure campaign involved Infowars warning Corsi not to give inculpatory testimony during a grand jury appearance about Stone’s involvement in WikiLeaks’ dissemination of hacked emails, the issue Stone would later be convicted of lying to Congress over.
Infowars then became Stone’s public forum to litigate the charges against him. In an appearance four days after his arrest, Stone attempted to explain away the witness tampering charge he was later convicted of. On his show War Room, Stone said he hadn’t encouraged radio host Randy Credico to lie to Congress to prevent him from implicating Stone in a crime, but rather so that Credico’s liberal friends wouldn’t find out he supported Trump and get mad at him.
Stone continued to use Infowars to attack his critics. During the February 8 edition of his show, Stone complained about “leftist retards” talking about his upcoming trial. On February 12, he mentioned CNN commentator Ana Navarro, asking, “What qualifies her other than her ethnicity to comment on anything?” and saying, “Let’s see if she celebrates my acquittal,” before calling her “porquita.” During the broadcast, he also highlighted the role of Infowars in his legal defense, saying, “I’ve told you about the vital role that Infowars plays in the strategy for my defense. If I can’t come here, if I can’t come on The Alex Jones Show, if I can’t come on the morning show with David Knight, if I can’t come on the War Room, then there’s no forum where I can really go to tell people the complete story about what’s going on.”
Stone also used Infowars to praise his friend, the president. During the February 18 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, he alleged that Trump was the victim of a “globalist” coup attempt led by elements in the FBI and DOJ and railed against the special counsel office, which was leading the criminal prosecution against him. Stone also flattered Trump, saying, “If he’s so incapacitated, why do we have 4.8 million new jobs, for example?” He added that Trump is a “leader” who is “keeping faith with the very people that voted for him.”
After Stone was placed under a gag order for posting an image showing firearm crosshairs next to the judge in his case, Infowars picked up the slack
But Stone also did something on February 18 that would stop him from fighting his legal case through Infowars when he posted an image on Instagram that showed the federal judge overseeing his case, Amy Berman Jackson, next to apparent firearm crosshairs. Stone was already operating under a gag order that prevented him from speaking about his case on the steps of the courthouse where it was being tried, but Jackson expanded the order in a February 21 hearing to prohibit Stone from talking about his case anywhere, with the caveat that he could still profess his innocence and solicit money for his legal defense fund.
But Stone’s boss, Alex Jones, picked up where he left off. During a February 25 broadcast, Jones compared Judge Jackson to Hitler and attempted to link Mueller to Jeffrey Epstein. He also echoed language Stone had used on his show, claiming that Stone was being pressured “to bear false witness against the president” and also addressed Trump directly, saying, “And we can talk about how great Trump is all day, but he’s asleep at the switch. Tweets don’t do it, President; protect us.”
As Stone’s trial approached, he stopped appearing on Infowars but continued to go right up to the line imposed by his gag order in other public forums. During an April interview with pro-Trump propaganda outlet One America News Network, Stone complained that he was facing “process crime charges,” echoing a right-wing media talking point that had been used to attack the charges against him. In July, Stone again ran afoul of the gag order after Jackson agreed with prosecutors who said some of his Instagram posts counted as disallowed commentary on his case. Stone was banned from using social media as a result of the violation.
Stone made one exception to his silence on Infowars while he was under gag in the pre-trial phase. In an October 25 appearance, he discussed topics unrelated to his case and made flattering comments about Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.
Alex Jones and his Infowars outlet attempted to interfere with the trial process in a way that the court said put people in danger
Stone’s trial occurred in November, and Infowars attempted to interfere on his behalf -- Stone had since officially left the outlet -- throughout the proceedings. During the jury selection phase, Infowars attempted to out the identities of jurors on the trial with the help of Jacob Engels, Stone’s assistant. Amid the outing attempts, in which they named at least two people who were not actually on the jury, Jones attacked the jurors, claiming that they were involved in a setup against Stone. According to a transcript from the trial cited in a Department of Justice sentencing memo, Jackson said that Jones’ actions caused “great consternation among members of the public” and put “the safety of all the people associated with this case, on both sides, and including, possibly, the jurors, at risk.”
As the jury deliberated, Stone passed a message through Alex Jones asking Trump to pardon him
The sentencing memo also mentioned Jones with respect to an incident that occured while the jury was deliberating Stone’s case. During his November 14 broadcast, Jones shared a purported message from Stone in which Stone said, “I appeal to the president to pardon me because to do so would be an action that would show these corrupt courts that they’re not going to get away with persecuting people for their free speech or for the crime of getting the president elected.” Jones then encouraged people to call the White House to demand Stone be pardoned and continued to attack the “libtard jurors.”
Other right-wing media figures -- and even more extreme right-wingers -- have joined Infowars in campaigning for a pardon for Stone
Stone was convicted on all counts the next day, November 15. Reacting to the news on air, Jones read an angry text message from one of Stone’s lawyers that said Jones’ broadcast of Stone’s pardon request almost caused Stone to be remanded into custody immediately upon conviction, as the ongoing gag order also prohibited Stone from commenting on his case in public forums through surrogates. Jones defended his conduct by saying he was just “doing what Roger said.” Post-conviction, many other members of right-wing media -- most notably Tucker Carlson on his Fox News broadcast -- publicly pleaded with Trump to issue a pardon. According to reporting from The Daily Beast, sources close to Trump say that “as a platform for pro-Stone messaging,” Carlson’s show “is potent enough that Trump allies who seek leniency for the Stone have specifically sought to appear … in order to get the message to the president” and that Trump watches segments about Stone on the show and discusses them with others.
Between conviction and sentencing, Infowars’ advocacy for Stone crossed into the territory of violent rhetoric. During a late November broadcast, Stone’s former co-host Owen Shroyer said, “Roger Stone’s fate is our fate. So if Roger Stone gets thrown in jail and dies in jail, that’s the rest of our fate. We’re all going to die from these left-wing politicos, whether that’s in jail or from a bullet [in] the head.” Stone’s assistant Engels cited the saying “would you rather die on your knees or die fighting standing up?” and Shroyer responded, “We’re not calling for violence. … But let me tell you, when you start to use the government and these bureaucracies against us, and you take away our freedom of speech, and you take away our right to a fair trial, and you take away our right to bear arms, what are we supposed to do? We’re not going to be your damn slaves.”
As the sentencing date approached, chaos reigned while high-level DOJ figures interfered in the case
After an extension, Stone’s sentencing was scheduled for February 20. The latest flashpoint in the case began on February 10, when the DOJ and Stone’s attorneys submitted their sentencing recommendations to the court. While Stone’s attorneys asked for no jail time, the DOJ recommended seven to nine years, garnering a late-night tweet from Trump about the “horrible and very unfair” recommendation. Chaos ensued on February 11 when reports began circulating that the DOJ would issue an amended sentencing recommendation. All four of the federal prosecutors who worked on the initial sentencing memo quit the case (one prosecutor left the DOJ altogether) and an amended sentencing memo calling the initial recommendation excessive was filed with the court. As rumors swirled throughout the day about the modified memo, Fox News’ Sean Hannity said on his radio show, “Something is happening that is very deep. I'm telling you this is a big deal.” Later, he praised the DOJ’s move to amend the memo on his Fox News broadcast.
Throughout Stone’s criminal trial saga, Infowars has repeatedly promoted in videos and articles the catchphrase “free Roger Stone.” In reaction to the initial sentencing memo, Infowars.com published an article criticizing the filing that provided readers with a phone number to call the White House to ask Trump to pardon Stone. On air, Jones purported to share inside information about internal discussions in the White House about Stone’s fate. Jones said that he talked to “somebody this morning who was there inside the White House meetings dealing with” the Stone situation and that Trump would issue a pardon for Stone following the February 20 sentencing. The pardon push was also seen in (slightly) more mainstream conservative media, with Carlson demanding during his February 11 broadcast that Trump pardon Stone.
If Stone is pardoned, he would be the latest beneficiary of a corrupt system in which Trump grants pardons based on what he sees on conservative media
Stone’s allies are prescient to make the pardon case through conservative media. In November, Media Matters’ Matt Gertz chronicled the “Fox News pardon pipeline” and concluded that “Donald Trump’s Fox News obsession is directly linked to at least nine of his grants of executive clemency.” Despite its extreme character, Infowars has also apparently been previously influential in at least one pardon situation. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was pardoned by Trump before he could be sentenced for refusing to comply with a court order that enjoined his racially discriminatory law enforcement practices, credited Infowars with his clemency grant. Appearing on The Alex Jones Show in August 2017, Arpaio praised Infowars as having real influence in getting his story before Trump inside the White House.
Arpaio’s pardon was granted following months of Infowars public advocacy.