Judge declines to gag Trump in 2020 election case, issues protective order

 August 11, 2023

The federal judge overseeing the prosecution of former President Donald Trump's so-called plot to "overturn" the 2020 election slapped the former president with a protective order on Friday, although the scope of it was narrower than what prosecutor Jack Smith requested.

Judge Tanya Chutkan emphasized that she was not gagging the former president, limiting her protective order to discussing witnesses and "sensitive evidence" in the case, whereas Smith wanted to stop Trump from discussing any evidence in the case publicly.

Chutkan took pains to appear fair and impartial during Friday's hearing for the politically sensitive trial, which pits a presidential candidate against the government of his chief rival.

Trump gets protective order

The judge said she would "ensure the orderly administration of justice" as she warned Trump -- who has attacked Smith as "deranged" and his prosecution as a witch hunt -- to observe caution in his public statements.

"I do want to issue a general word of caution — I intend to ensure the orderly administration of justice in this case as I would in any other case, and even arguably ambiguous statements by the parties or their counsel....[could] intimidate witnesses or prejudice potential jurors,” she said.

Chutkan acknowledged that Trump has First Amendment rights but, she said, they are "not absolute."

The protective order limits Trump from discussing witnesses or their testimony, but Chutkan resisted issuing the "blanket" ban Smith desired.

Chutkan said she would allow Trump to view evidence without his lawyers, but he can't have any devices, like a smartphone, that would let him make copies of materials.

Free speech concerns

Trump and his allies have slammed the indictment itself as an attack on Trump's free speech rights.

The case is premised on the contentious notion that Trump knowingly "lied" about the 2020 election's outcome and then sought to defraud the American people of the correct result.

Trump and his lawyers had fought the protective order, arguing that it was an additional an additional muzzle on Trump, who -- largely deprived of any hope of a fair legal process in Washington, D.C. -- has been left to litigate the case in the court of public opinion.

Biased judge....

Trump's lawyers argued that any restrictions on Trump's public commentary would jeopardize his ability to defend himself, noting that Mike Pence, a witness in the case, will be crossing paths with Trump on the campaign trail -- but the judge was unmoved.

"The fact that he’s running a political campaign has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan said. “If that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, that’s how it has to be.”

Chutkan, an Obama appointee, has a reputation for being extremely tough on January 6th defendants, issuing longer sentences than those requested by prosecutors. A reporter in the courtroom Friday said she was rolling her eyes at Trump's lawyer.

Trump has called for the judge's recusal and for the case to be removed from overwhelmingly liberal Washington, D.C., which voted for Joe Biden by margins that would make a North Korean dictator blush.