Lawyers for former President Donald Trump are slamming prosecutors’ request for a narrow gag order in his 2020 election subversion case in Washington, calling it an effort to “unconstitutionally silence” his political speech.
In court papers filed late Monday, attorneys for Trump urged U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to deny the proposal to bar the Republican ex-president from making inflammatory and intimidating comments about witnesses, lawyers and other people involved in the criminal case.
Trump’s attorneys call the request a “desperate effort at censorship” that would prevent him from telling his side of the story on the campaign trial as he runs to retake the White House in 2024.
“The prosecution may not like President’s Trump’s entirely valid criticisms, but neither it nor this Court are the filter for what the public may hear,” his legal team wrote. “If the prosecution wishes to avoid criticism for abusing its power, the solution is simple: stop abusing its power. The Constitution allows no alternative.”
The fight over the limits of Trump’s speech in one of four criminal cases he is facing comes as his legal team is also pushing the judge to remove herself from the case, arguing it appears she has already prejudged his guilt.
In seeking the order earlier this month, special counsel Jack Smith’s team pointed to what it said is a pattern of “false and inflammatory” statements by Trump about the case as well as comments meant to intimidate or harass people he believes are potential witnesses against him.
Trump has frequently taken to social media to attack Judge Tanya Chutkan, prosecutors and others despite warnings from the judge, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, not to make inflammatory statements about the case.
Prosecutors told the judge that a “narrow, well-defined” order was necessary to preserve the integrity of the case and to avoid prejudicing potential jurors.
Trump’s lawyers said prosecutors haven’t proved why such an order would be necessary, saying that his social media posts haven’t intimidated any possible witnesses and that there’s no real concern his comments would taint the jury pool. Trump’s legal team accused Smith of using inflammatory rhetoric himself in an “incendiary attack” upon Trump during a press conference after the indictment was unsealed last month.
“Following these efforts to poison President Trump’s defense, the prosecution now asks the Court to take the extraordinary step of stripping President Trump of his First Amendment freedoms during the most important months of his campaign against President Biden,” they wrote.
Trump’s lawyers have also asked the judge to recuse herself from the case, saying her past public statements about him and his connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol call into question whether she can be fair.
There’s a high bar for recusal, and Smith’s team has said there is no valid basis to have the judge removed from the case.
Richer reported from Boston.