Federal prosecutors have strongly advocated for the reinstatement of a limited gag order against former President Donald Trump. This move aims to prevent him from publicly targeting potential witnesses involved in the special counsel’s 2020 election-related case. Court papers filed late Wednesday detail the special counsel’s concerns and recommendations.
Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has not only urged Judge Tanya Chutkan to consider reinstating the gag order but has also proposed making it a permanent condition of Trump’s post-indictment release. This suggestion effectively links Trump’s pretrial liberties to his compliance with the court’s order.
Judge Chutkan had previously partially granted the Justice Department’s request for restrictions on Trump’s public speech about the special counsel’s case. This ruling prohibited him from discussing prosecutors, court staff, and potential witnesses, with the goal of protecting witnesses from undue influence and safeguarding court employees and prosecutors from being targeted.
The judge’s decision was primarily motivated by concerns about language that could jeopardize the administration of justice. Her ruling applied not only to Trump but also to his legal team and government lawyers.
The former president’s legal team challenged this ruling, arguing that no court in American history had imposed a gag order on a defendant, especially one campaigning for public office, let alone the leading candidate for President. However, in Wednesday night’s filing from the special counsel, prosecutors countered this argument, emphasizing that Trump’s language was prejudicial and threatening.
The prosecutors particularly highlighted a recent social media post by Trump in which he referred to reports of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, being granted immunity by investigators. This post was considered potentially influential and intimidating, as Meadows could be a potential government witness at trial.
ABC News had reported Meadows’ immunity grant, and CBS News confirmed his discussions with investigators. While the special counsel’s filing did not address the veracity of these reports, it argued that Trump’s language had the potential to prejudice the upcoming trial, scheduled to begin on March 4, 2024.
Although the filing did not mention the possibility of detention, Smith’s team suggested that Chutkan could reconsider the boundaries of Trump’s pretrial release. This could involve making compliance with the gag order a condition or clarifying that the existing condition barring communication with witnesses about the case extends to indirect messages made publicly on social media or in speeches.
Trump’s defense team continued to argue that the gag order was overbroad and would hinder his ability to run for public office, given the significance of the indictment in the upcoming election. The Justice Department, however, opposed these characterizations.
In a separate case, Trump faced a contempt ruling and a $10,000 fine for violating a gag order related to a civil trial connected to his real estate ventures in New York. He briefly testified in that case but did not satisfy the judge’s requirements.
Notably, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed court papers in support of Trump’s efforts to overturn Chutkan’s gag order, asserting his First Amendment right to speak. While acknowledging the harm caused by some of Trump’s statements, the ACLU argued that the order was vague and violated the Constitution.
In the case before Judge Chutkan, Trump faces four federal counts related to his alleged conduct after the 2020 presidential election. These charges include an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S., to which the former president has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. The legal battle over the gag order remains ongoing, with significant implications for Trump’s ability to communicate about the case and his potential political ambitions.