Special counsel asks judge to limit President Trump’s public statements in federal election subversion case

Sep 16, 2023, 11:00 AM

Former President Donald Trump’s public statements about the federal election interference investi...

Former President Donald Trump’s public statements about the federal election interference investigation led to the harassment of witnesses, according to prosecutors with special counsel Jack Smith’s office. Photo credit: Reuters, AP

(CNN) — Justice Department prosecutors want US District Judge Tanya Chutkan to reel in former President Donald Trump’s public statements in the federal 2020 election interference case against him, asking her to place a court order limiting what he can say, according to a newly released filing.

The request for a limited gag order, filed in recent days, represents the most direct response from prosecutors with special counsel Jack Smith’s office to the former president’s public statements to date. The Justice Department said the order is needed to protect the integrity of his trial in March. President Trump has already been ordered not to intimidate potential witnesses or talk to them about the facts of the case.

In making their argument, prosecutors pointed to false public statements former President Trump previously made around the 2020 vote “to erode public faith in the administration of the election and intimidate individuals who refuted his lies.”

“The defendant is now attempting to do the same thing in this criminal case — to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and prejudice the jury pool through disparaging and inflammatory attacks on the citizens of this District, the Court, prosecutors, and prospective witnesses,” prosecutors wrote in their filing.

Chutkan, an Obama appointee overseeing the criminal case in Washington, DC, hasn’t yet made a decision on the request.

President Trump blasted the special counsel’s motion in a Truth Social post Friday, calling Smith “deranged” and claiming that it was a move to silence the leading Republican candidate who could challenge President Joe Biden in the 2024 election.

The former president doubled down on his attacks at an event in Washington, DC, on Friday evening, accusing the special counsel of infringing on his rights.

“Did you see today that deranged Jack Smith … wants to take away my rights under the First Amendment, wants to take away my right of speaking freely and openly?” Trump said.

The prosecutors specifically asked for a court order limiting President Trump’s ability to speak about “the identity, testimony, or credibility of prospective witnesses” and “statements about any party, witness, attorney, court personnel, or potential jurors that are disparaging and inflammatory, or intimidating.”

In the filing, federal prosecutors cited former President Trump’s recent criticism of former Vice President Mike Pence and Bill Barr – the former attorney general under Trump – both of whom could be called as witnesses in the trial next year.

Prosecutors also noted President Trump’s previous social media posts against Chutkan, calling her a “Trump-hating judge.” Former President Trump, they noted, has called the special counsel prosecutors a “team of thugs” and has attacked Smith as “deranged.”

“The defendant’s relentless public posts marshaling anger and mistrust in the justice system, the Court, and prosecutors have already influenced the public,” prosecutors wrote. “For instance, on August 5, 2023, an individual was arrested because she called the Court’s chambers and made racist death threats to the Court that were tied to the Court’s role in presiding over the defendant’s case.”

Prosecutors argued President Trump “knows that when he publicly attacks individuals and institutions, he inspires others to perpetrate threats and harassment against his targets.”

The prosecutors said they do not want to block former President Trump from being able to quote or reference the court record or to proclaim his innocence.

They are also seeking a court order that would block President Trump’s lawyers from polling potential jurors for the case without the court’s approval first. Defense attorneys can poll residents who could make up the jury pool in their case with general questions around the issues of the case. Those findings can be used to argue for a change of venue.

“Consistent with its obligations to guard the integrity of these proceedings and prevent prejudice to the jury pool, while respecting the defendant’s First Amendment rights, the Court should enter the proposed orders imposing certain narrow restrictions on the parties’ public statements regarding this case and governing any jury studies the parties may undertake,” the prosecutors wrote to the judge.

The federal election interference investigation is one of four criminal cases against the former president. President Trump is facing four charges in this case, including obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Earlier this week, Trump’s legal team asked Chutkan to recuse herself, citing comments that she made in cases involving January 6, 2021, rioters.

Chutkan has long been outspoken about the riot at the Capitol – calling the violence an assault on American democracy and warning of future danger from political violence. But Smith’s team argued in a filing Thursday night, that President Trump had taken the judge’s comments “out of context.”

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Special counsel asks judge to limit President Trump’s public statements in federal election subversion case