WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s verbal and written attacks on participants in the criminal case against him pose a “grave threat” to the judicial process and warrant a limited gag order, the judge overseeing the Jan. 6 coup attempt case against him wrote Tuesday.
“Since his indictment, and even after the government filed the instant motion, defendant has continued to make similar statements attacking individuals involved in the judicial process, including potential witnesses, prosecutors, and court staff,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan wrote in her three-page order formalizing her ruling from the bench Monday.
“Defendant has made those statements to national audiences using language communicating not merely that he believes the process to be illegitimate, but also that particular individuals involved in it are liars, or ‘thugs,’ or deserve death,” she wrote. “Undisputed testimony cited by the government demonstrates that when defendant has publicly attacked individuals, including on matters related to this case, those individuals are consequently threatened and harassed.”
She has barred the former president from attacking prosecutors and their staff, courthouse staff and witnesses or their testimony. While the order is technically directed at everyone associated in the case and also protects defense lawyers from attacks, Monday’s two-hour hearing was based entirely on Trump’s conduct ever since special counsel Jack Smith brought a four-count indictment against him in August for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and remain in power.
Trump lawyer John Lauro argued Monday that because Trump is a candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, the First Amendment protects any and all of his statements.
Chutkan rejected that, pointing out repeatedly during the hearing that as a criminal defendant, Trump agreed to give up some rights as a condition of his pretrial release on bail.
“The defense’s position that no limits may be placed on defendant’s speech because he is engaged in a political campaign is untenable,” she wrote. “The bottom line is that equal justice under law requires the equal treatment of criminal defendants; defendant’s presidential candidacy cannot excuse statements that would otherwise intolerably jeopardize these proceedings.”
Trump has been stating, falsely, that the Justice Department under President Joe Biden is trying to silence him as he campaigns. “They take away my right to speak. I won’t be able to speak, like I’m speaking to you,” he complained to reporters again Tuesday at a separate civil fraud trial in New York. “My speech has been taken away from me. I’m a candidate that’s running for office, and I’m not allowed to speak.”
But Chutkan in her order specifically said it does not stop Trump from criticizing either Biden or the Justice Department. She similarly exempted criticisms against former Vice President Mike Pence on policy matters, as opposed to issues that will arise at trial regarding Trump’s attempts to coerce Pence into stealing the election for him.
“This order shall not be construed to prohibit defendant from making statements criticizing the government generally, including the current administration or the Department of Justice; statements asserting that defendant is innocent of the charges against him, or that his prosecution is politically motivated; or statements criticizing the campaign platforms or policies of defendant’s current political rivals, such as former Vice President Pence,” she said.
Lauro said during Monday’s hearing that Trump would likely appeal any gag order. A few hours after Chutkan’s order was released, he filed a notice that an appeal would be taken to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.