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A federal judge on Friday warned former President Donald Trump about making “inflammatory” statements about his case in public.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of the D.C. District said such comments would cause her to speed up his trial after being charged with conspiracies related to the 2020 election by special counsel Jack Smith.
“I caution you and your client to take special care in your public statements about this case,” Chutkan told Trump’s attorney John Lauro during a hearing. “I will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of these proceedings.”
Chutkan’s strong warning came as she concluded her initial courtroom session in the most recent criminal lawsuit involving the former president. The purpose of the hearing was to address disagreements between special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecuting team and Trump’s legal representatives regarding the management of evidence in the case, Politico reported.
Upon the judge establishing a “protective order” concerning evidence, prosecutors have indicated their readiness to provide Trump’s team access to millions of pages of documents, which would accelerate the case’s progress and set it on a trajectory toward trial.
Following the proceedings, Chutkan ruled that while it was close, the government did not convince her that all information regarding the case should be restricted, Fox News reported.
“Chutkan heard arguments about the restrictions on evidence in the case. In court filings, prosecutors had argued for broad rules baring Trump’s lawyers from sharing ‘sensitive’ materials with the former president, including witness testimony to the grand jury and recordings and transcripts of Trump associates who spoke to prosecutors,” the outlet reported.
“Trump’s attorneys countered that the government’s request was too broad and infringed on Trump’s First Amendment rights,” the network continued, adding:
In a “close” decision, Chutkan said she was not persuaded that the government has shown all information gathered in the case would fall under the protective order. She ruled that only information designated as “sensitive” should be protected.
“The defendant has the right to free speech, but that right is not absolute,” Chutkan said as the hearing began. “Without a protective order, a party could release that info to the jury pool.”
Thomas Windom, a prosecutor on Smith’s team, argued before Chutkan on Friday that the restrictions were vital to prevent the “improper dissemination of materials … including to the public.”
“The defendant has set forth an intention to set forth any information that they deem informative,” Windom told the judge.
“Defense has broadcast their strategy, and that is not to try this case in this courtroom, and your honor should address that,” he added.
The judge agreed, but she was nevertheless hesitant to issue a blanket order.
Lauro went on to argue that the government’s request was “extraordinary.”
“We are in uncharted waters, we have a defendant running for president, and his opponent has the DOJ bringing charges against him,” Lauro said.
“The fact that he’s running a political campaign has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan replied. “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.”
“The defendant’s desire to respond to political opponents has to yield,” Chutkan said. “There are limits. This is a criminal case. The need for this case to proceed in a normal order means there are going to be limits on the defendant’s speech.”
“Even arguably ambiguous statements from parties or their counsel, if they can be reasonably interpreted to intimidate witnesses or to prejudice potential jurors, can threaten the process,” Chutkan added later. “The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool … the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly.”