A federal judge issued a gag order against former President Donald Trump on Monday, limiting what he can say about federal charges against special counsel Jack Smith for his alleged attempted subversion of the 2020 presidential election .
03:00 – Source: CNN
Prosecutors used this video and audio to charge Trump in election cases
The order restricts Trump’s ability to publicly target court staff, potential witnesses or the special prosecutor and his staff. The order does not place restrictions on disparaging comments about Washington, D.C. — where the jury will be held — or certain comments about the Justice Department as a whole, which the government has requested in both cases.
“This is not about whether I like the language Mr. Trump uses,” Judge Tanya Chutkan said. “This is language that poses a danger to the administration of justice.”
“His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify civil servants who are simply doing their job,” added the judge.
Chutkan stressed that any violation of his orders could result in sanctions.
Trump will appeal Chutkan’s order, he said in a post on his social media site Truth Social.
“WILL APPEAL THE DECISION OF THE GAG ORDER. WITCH HUNT!” he wrote.
Following the two federal indictments against the former president, Trump attacked prosecutors, potential witnesses and the judge overseeing the election subversion case in Washington. Prosecutors in Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office say the comments are enough to warrant a narrow restriction of Trump’s speech on the case.
ChutkanOften the target of Trump’s attacks, warned the former president that comments he or his lawyers made could threaten the case.
“Mr. Trump is a criminal defendant. He faces four criminal charges. He is under the supervision of the criminal justice system and he must comply with his conditions of release,” Chutkan said Monday during the hearing.
“He doesn’t have the right to say and do exactly what he wants. Do you agree with that?” she asked Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, who replied, “100%.”
Trump’s lawyers attacked the proposed order as fundamentally antithetical to his First Amendment rights and suggested the order was simply a way to President Joe Biden and the Justice Department to harm Trump’s ability to campaign.
Lauro accused the special prosecutor’s office of trying to “prevent President Trump from speaking out on the issues of the day,” adding, “Every issue in this case also has political issues.” »
In social media posts, Trump attacked Chutkan as a “biased, Trump-hating judge” and called Smith “deranged” and a “thug,” and attacked individual members of his team.
“When you start using a word like ‘thug’ to describe a prosecutor doing his job, that would not be allowed by any other criminal defendant,” Chutkan said. “It is not because the accused is leading a political campaign that he can do what he wants. »
She added: “If the message Mr. Trump wants to express is ‘my prosecution is politically motivated,'” he can do so without using “very loaded language.”
Trump’s legal team had little reaction in the courtroom when Chutkan issued his order. But afterwards, they were quite jovial. One of the lawyers left the courtroom, telling another that he should call his client.
Trump’s lawyers declined to comment after the hearing.
Chutkan on Monday criticized Lauro over Trump’s public messages targeting Smith’s office, saying his “highly charged language” pushes the boundaries of what a defendant can say publicly about his legal case.
The judge said Trump’s “troubling” messages could incite harm to Smith and his team and asked Trump’s lawyers why he should not be stopped from publicly attacking prosecutors during his trial.
Chutkan specifically pointed to a Truth Social article in which the former president called Smith a “thug,” asking Lauro: “In what kind of cases do you think it would be appropriate for a criminal defendant to call the prosecutor a thug and stay on the streets?”
“No one will rid me of this intrusive priest” comes to mind,” Chutkan said.
Lauro criticized proposed restrictions on Trump’s ability to discuss prosecutors, saying, “What kind of words does someone use to fight against oppression” or against a society he says is turning towards “totalitarianism”.»
“President Trump firmly believes that this proceeding is being brought by a politically motivated prosecutor,” Lauro added.
His choice of words prompted Chutkan to ask him to tone down his language. The judge sat back in her chair, shaking her head as Lauro spoke. She had repeatedly reminded him that Trump, as a criminal defendant, may face court-imposed restrictions on what he can say publicly about people involved in the case.
Lauro agreed, but argued that it might be impossible to implement additional restrictions while he campaigns for president, and that everything Trump has said publicly follows court rulings so far.
During the hearing, Chutkan took issue with Lauro saying “what you have in place is working” regarding Trump’s release conditions. The judge burst out laughing in response to Lauro’s statement and told the lawyer to stop debating political arguments in his courtroom.
The arguments Lauro made prompted Chutkan to interrupt him several times, as he argues that Trump should not be limited in what he can say during his presidential campaign.
Lauro at one point accused the special counsel’s office, through the proposed silence order, of trying to “prevent President Trump from speaking out on the issues of the day.”
But Chutkan made it clear she would not tolerate such rhetoric in her courtroom.
“Politics stops at the door of this courtroom,” she said.
Chutkan also reminded Lauro that Trump is a criminal defendant, with restrictions that he cannot intimidate witnesses or jurors while awaiting trial, while Joe Biden is not.
“We have no interest in preventing the defendant from running for office or defending his reputation, and our proposed order does not do that either,” prosecutor Molly Gaston said during the hearing.
“These are the participants, the witnesses, in this trial,” Gaston added. “This is limited to those individuals, as well as statements intended to influence venue or potential jurors.”
The judge added that the trial date set for early March will not change: “This trial will not yield to the election cycle, and we will not return to the trial date. »
Prosecutors say Trump’s attacks on potential witnesses, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Bill Barr, could result in witness intimidation by his supporters.
“Defendant’s incessant public messages, mobilizing anger and distrust toward the justice system, the Court, and prosecutors, have already influenced the public,” prosecutors wrote in a filing last month. “For example, on August 5, 2023, a person was arrested for calling the Court’s office and making racist death threats against the Court, linked to the Court’s role in presiding over the Court. trial of the accused. »
They told the judge Monday that their goal was not to stop Trump from campaigning.
“We have no interest in preventing the defendant from running for office or defending his reputation, and our proposed order does not do that either,” Gaston said.
“These are the participants, the witnesses, in this trial,” Gaston added. “This is limited to those individuals and statements intended to influence the venue or potential jurors.”
When he first appeared in Chutkan’s courtroom in late August on charges of illegally working to overturn the results of the 2020 election, the judge warned Trump against making “inflammatory” comments in the case.
“Judicial trials are not like elections, which are won through the use of meeting rooms, radio and newspapers,” Chutkan said at the time, later adding: “I will take all measures necessary to safeguard the integrity of these procedures. »
Any restrictions on Trump’s speech, no matter how narrow, would likely be brought up on appeal in this case, as would defense attorney claims that the federal prosecution of Trump is being rushed in order to secure a conviction against him before the elections.
If Chutkan decides to impose restrictions on what the former president can say, she will not be the first judge to do so.
In early October, the judge in New York’s ongoing civil fraud trial against Trump issued a gag order against the former president after Trump attacked a court staffer.
“Consider this statement an order prohibiting all parties from publishing, emailing or speaking publicly about members of my staff,” Judge Arthur Engoron said after Trump accused his secretary of being petty friend of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and demanded that she be fired. post on social networks.
“Failure to comply with this rule… will result in serious sanctions,” Engoron said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.