A U.S. federal judge in Washington imposed a partial gag order Monday on former President Donald Trump, restricting what he can say about his impending trial on charges that he illegally tried to overturn his 2020 reelection loss.
Judge Tanya Chutkan barred Trump, the leading Republican presidential contender for 2024, from attacking prosecutors, possible witnesses and the judge’s staff.
Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith had called for the gag order, contending that Trump’s barrage of attacks against him, the judge and possible witnesses risked undermining public confidence in the court system and could intimidate potential jurors in the case set to start in March.
Trump’s lawyers opposed any restrictions and could appeal the ruling. Chutkan placed no restrictions on Trump criticizing the Justice Department generally or making statements that he believes the case is politically motivated to keep him from retaking the presidency.
Trump’s campaign assailed Chutkan’s ruling, saying it is “an absolute abomination and another partisan knife stuck in the heart of our Democracy. President Trump will continue to fight for our Constitution, the American people’s right to support him, and to keep our country free of the chains of weaponized and targeted law enforcement.”
In arguments before Chutkan’s ruling, Trump lawyer John Lauro accused prosecutors of "seeking to censor a political candidate in the middle of a campaign." But the judge rebuffed him, saying Trump "does not have a right to say and do exactly as he pleases."
"You keep talking about censorship like the defendant has unfettered First Amendment rights. He doesn't," Chutkan said. "We're not talking about censorship here. We're talking restrictions to ensure there is a fair administration of justice on this case."
Prosecutor Molly Gaston told the judge that Trump's lawyers were arguing their client is "above the law" and not subject to the same rules as other defendants. Gaston said Trump knows that his social media posts "motivate people to threaten others," and she argued those can pollute the jury pool and can chill witnesses who might be called to testify against Trump.
"We have no interest in stopping the defendant from running for office or defending his reputation," Gaston said.
Chutkan, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, repeatedly warned Trump's lawyer to keep politics out of his arguments. She cut him off when he suggested the case was politically motivated.
Chutkan also read aloud statements Trump made about her being a "radical Obama hack." She said she was "less concerned" about his statements about her, but said his free speech did not extend to language that knowingly invites threats and harassment of "people who are simply doing their jobs."
Trump is trying to raise campaign funds off the dispute, telling would-be donors earlier this month, that Biden’s “weaponized” Justice Department “may very well get away with stripping Biden’s leading opponent (ME) of his First Amendment right to freedom of speech in the 2024 presidential election."
At various times, Trump has called Smith “deranged” and a "psycho" who “looks like a crackhead.” The prosecutor has brought two cases against Trump, the election conspiracy case in Washington and a separate indictment accusing him of illegally taking highly classified national security documents with him to his oceanside Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida when he left the presidency in 2021 and then conspiring to keep federal agents from retrieving them.
In another social media post, Trump called Chutkan, “a fraud dressed up as a judge" and “a biased, Trump-hating judge.” His lawyers asked Chutkan to recuse herself from overseeing the trial, but she rejected the request.
"IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I'M COMING AFTER YOU!" Trump said in one social media post.
After one of his public complaints about the election conspiracy case, a Texas woman was charged with calling the office of Chutkan, who is Black, addressing her using a racist term and “threatened to kill anyone who went after former President Trump.” The woman was arrested and is awaiting trial at the end of October.
Aside from the two indictments brought by Smith against Trump, the former president is facing two other criminal cases, one accusing him of trying to illegally upend his 2020 loss to Biden in the southern state of Georgia and another of falsifying business records at his real estate conglomerate to hide a hush money payment to a porn film star ahead of his successful 2016 presidential campaign.