A federal judge has issued an order preventing Donald Trump from criticizing prosecutors, the court, and potential witnesses in advance of his trial on charges related to election subversion. This decision came in response to recent comments by the former president in which he strongly criticized the prosecutors, labeling them as “a team of thugs,” and targeting one of the case’s witnesses as “a gutless pig.”
Judge Tanya Chutkan expressed the necessity of a limited gag order against Mr. Trump to prevent what she referred to as “a pre-trial smear campaign.” In response, a spokesperson for Trump criticized the ruling as “yet another partisan move.”
Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential election , faces charges stemming from alleged efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. The four counts in his indictment include conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who leads the investigation, requested the gag order, arguing that Trump’s comments could “prejudice” various parties involved, including prosecutors, jurors, and court staff. Smith’s office also contended that attacking potential witnesses could have a “chilling” effect on the case.
Judge Chutkan faced the challenge of balancing the need to protect legal proceedings with the free speech rights of a political candidate. During the hearing, she emphasized that, as a criminal defendant, Trump “does not have the right to say and do exactly what he pleases.” She pointed out that Trump had referred to Mr. Smith as “deranged” and to her as “a biased Trump-hating judge” and “a radical Obama hack.” She expressed her deep concern about his tendency to attack others, including the special counsel’s wife and a court staffer in his New York civil fraud case.
In that case, Trump faces a partial gag order related to his criticism of a New York judge’s top clerk, which included her name, photograph, and social media. Judge Chutkan clarified that her decision was not about whether she liked the language Trump used but rather about language that poses a threat to the administration of justice.
In defense of Trump’s “colorful language,” attorney John Lauro argued that it was part of the “rough and tumble” of politics and that Trump, as a presidential candidate, had the right to “speak truth to oppression.” However, Judge Chutkan challenged this, asking, “Because he is running for president, he gets to make threats?”
The judge’s limited ruling, described as “narrowly tailored,” does not go as far as the special counsel had requested but aims to prevent a “smear campaign.” It does not restrict Trump from criticizing President Biden, the Justice Department, or Washington, where the case is being tried. However, it prohibits comments about the special counsel, his team, court staff, or potential witnesses, with the exception of Mike Pence, Trump’s vice-president and rival in the 2024 race.
Judge Chutkan did not specify how she would enforce her partial order but indicated that she would consider imposing sanctions if anyone violated the restrictions. The judge rejected a suggestion to delay the trial until after the 2024 election, affirming that she would not schedule the trial based on the election cycle.
In response to the ruling, a Trump spokesperson characterized it as “an absolute abomination and another partisan move by Crooked Joe Biden, who granted himself the right to muzzle his political opponent.”
They have scheduled the trial to commence on March 4, coinciding with Super Tuesday, a crucial day for voting in the Republican presidential primary.As Trump campaigns for the White House once again, he faces three other criminal trials next year, involving a total of 91 felony charges.