Special counsel seeks gag order on Trump in 2020 election case

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Washington: US Special Counsel Jack Smith is asking a judge to impose limits on statements from former president Donald Trump regarding a Washington, DC, court case over his attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat, according to a court filing on Friday.

“The defendant has an established practice of issuing inflammatory public statements targeted at individuals or institutions that present an obstacle or challenge to him,” Smith said in a US District Court filing asking judge Tanya Chutkan to impose some “narrow” limits on Trump’s statements outside of court.

Former US president Donald Trump and special counsel Jack Smith.Credit: AP, Reuters

“This demonstrates the need to protect potential jurors from fear of threats and harassment that stem from the defendant’s (Trump’s) disparaging and inflammatory public statements,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors want Trump restricted from giving statements about “the identity, testimony, or credibility of prospective witnesses”. They also want restrictions on comments about “any party, witness, attorney, court personnel, or potential jurors that are disparaging and inflammatory, or intimidating”.

“This is nothing more than blatant election interference because president Trump is by far the leading candidate in this race,” a Trump spokesperson said in a statement.

Chutkan has given Trump’s legal team until September 25 to respond to the government’s request.

Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has been charged with four felony counts for allegedly plotting to subvert the results of the 2020 election. It is one of four criminal cases he faces. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Chutkan previously warned Trump against making statements that could threaten witnesses or taint the jury pool. As a condition of his release, he also agreed not to make threats against those involved in the case.

Earlier this week, Trump filed a motion asking Chutkan to recuse herself from the case, saying that her prior statements about some defendants in previous January 6 cases reveal bias.

Chutkan last month set a trial date of March 4 for the federal case in Washington.

Special counsel Jack Smith has been ridiculed by the former president on social media. Credit: AP

That is one day before “Super Tuesday”, a potentially decisive date in the Republican presidential race, when states from Maine to California will hold their nominating contests. Opinion polls show Trump leading his rivals by a wide margin.

If the order is granted, Trump would be forced to dramatically limit the type of comments he makes about the case even as he seeks to turn his legal woes to his political advantage.

Still, it was not immediately clear what sanctions Trump could face if he fails to curb his speech or how Chutkan might enforce even a limited gag order.

Trump showed no signs of toning down his words, complaining about the motion on his social media platform, Truth Social, shortly after it was filed and repeating his claim that the FBI and Justice Department had been “weaponised”. He repeated his familiar refrains that President Joe Biden was “crooked” and that Smith was “deranged”.

Sketch depicts Trump (right) conferring with defence lawyer Todd Blanche during his appearance at the Federal Courthouse in Washington DC on August 3.Credit: AP

“They Leak, Lie, & Sue, & they won’t allow me to SPEAK,” Trump wrote.

Later on Friday, in a speech at the Concerned Women for America’s Leadership Summit dinner in Washington, Trump said Smith “wants to take away my rights under the First Amendment” and “my right to speaking freely and openly”.

“They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you,” he said.

Trump’s lawyers also oppose the request, prosecutors wrote in their motion, and a Trump spokesperson said in a statement that prosecutors were “corruptly and cynically continuing to attempt to deprive president Trump of his First Amendment rights”.

“This is nothing more than blatant election interference because president Trump is by far the leading candidate in this race. The American people – the voters – see right through this un-constitutional charade and will send president Trump back to the White House,” the spokesperson said in the statement.

Beyond the narrow gag order, prosecutors also asked for an order that would prevent the Trump team from contacting District of Columbia residents to conduct polling, jury studies and focus groups without the judge’s permission.

The efforts to weaken faith in the court system, the prosecutors wrote, mirror his attacks on the 2020 election, which he falsely claimed that he had won.

“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,” they wrote.

Among the statements cited by prosecutors in their motion is a post on Trump’s Truth Social platform days after the indictment in which Trump wrote, in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” He has also repeatedly claimed on social media that the case against him is “rigged” and that he cannot receive a fair trial.

The issue surfaced last week with the disclosure by the Justice Department that it sought to file a motion related to “daily” public statements by Trump that it said it feared would taint the jury pool. Chutkan on Friday granted permission to prosecutors to file a redacted motion publicly, with names and identifying information of individuals who say they’ve been harassed as a result of Trump’s attacks blacked out.


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