US federal judge imposes partial gag order on Trump in 2020 election interference case News
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US federal judge imposes partial gag order on Trump in 2020 election interference case

A Washington DC federal judge Monday imposed a partial gag order on former US President Donald Trump ahead of his criminal trial over alleged election interference during the 2020 US presidential election. Judge Tanya Chutkan’s order prohibits the former president from making any disparaging statements about potential witnesses, the court or prosecutors ahead of the March 4, 2024 trial date in the case.

Federal prosecutors originally requested Chutkan impose a gag order on Trump back on September 15. In a motion filed before the court, prosecutors requested that the court “enter a narrowly tailored order” to “restrict certain prejudicial” out-of-court statements by the former president. The government included with their motion several posts from Trump’s social media account on Truth Social intimidating prosecutors, questioning Chutkan’s impartiality, and attacking potential witnesses.

One of the earliest instances of Trump’s Truth Social posts prosecutors included in their motion was from one day after Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges in this case. In that post, Trump wrote, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

During a nearly two-hour hearing at the Federal District Court in Washington DC, Trump’s legal team and federal prosecutors presented arguments on the government’s proposed gag order. Under federal law, no participant in a trial may knowingly use intimidation, threats, corrupt persuasion or harassment to intimidate or sway a witness’ testimony.

Trump’s legal team suggested that the government’s proposed gag order was an attempt by prosecutors to limit Trump’s First Amendment rights to free speech under the US Constitution. Trump’s legal team attempted to tie Trump’s statements to his ongoing presidential campaign. However, Chutkan pushed back on this. Chutkan acknowledged the unprecedented nature of the trial, but still said, “Mr. Trump is a criminal defendant….He does not have the right to say and do exactly as he pleases.” She continued, “No other criminal defendant would be allowed to do so and I am not going to permit it in this case.”

That said, Chutkan did disagree with the scope of federal prosecutors’ proposed gag order. Chutkan identified five areas of speech that prosecutors sought to possibly restrain, including the Washington DC jury pool for the trial, the Biden administration, Special Prosecutor Jack Smith and his prosecutorial team, Chutkan and her staff, as well as any potential witnesses to the case. Ultimately, Chutkan only partially granted the government’s gag order, relating to the last three areas she identified.

Though no formal opinion has been handed down as of the time of this report, Chutkan explained her decision on Monday:

Mr. Trump may still vigorously seek public support as a presidential candidate, debate policies and people related to that candidacy, criticize the current administration and assert his belief that this prosecution is politically motivated. But those critical first amendment freedoms do not allow him to launch a pre-trial smear campaign against participating government staff, their families and foreseeable witnesses.

Shortly after the decision, Trump—who was not present at the hearing but instead appeared at an Iowa campaign stop—said he would appeal the order. Trump claimed, “I’ll be the only politician in history that runs with a gag order where I’m not allowed to criticize people.”

Trump currently faces four criminal counts in this case, including conspiracy to defraud the US government, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against US voters’ civil rights. The charges revolve around Trump’s actions and alleged election interference during and after the 2020 US presidential election. This case is one of four criminal cases—totaling in 91 state and federal criminal charges—the former president currently faces.