Donald Trump has officially been barred from making public statements that attacking prosecutors, witnesses, and court staff over the course of his federal 2020 election interference trial.
On Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan partially granted a request from the Justice Department to restrict Trump’s ability to target individuals potentially involved in the case and curb his use of social media and public events to comment on the trial.
“Mr. Trump is facing criminal charges,” Judge Chutkan told the court. “He does not get to respond to every criticism of him if his response would affect potential witnesses. That’s the bottom line here.”
Excluded from Chutkan’s order are general attacks on the U.S. government, Justice Department leadership, the Biden administration, or general political accusations regarding the case.
The judge also warned the former president’s attorneys that she would not hesitate to impose “sanctions” on any violation of the order. “This is not about whether I like the language Mr. Trump uses. This is about language that presents a danger to the administration of justice,” Chutkan said in her decision. “His presidential candidacy does not give him cart blanche to vilify public servants who are simply doing their jobs.”
Trump’s presidential campaign responded by calling the decision “an absolute abomination and another partisan knife stuck in the heart of our Democracy by Crooked Joe Biden, who was granted the right to muzzle his political opponent.”
In their request to the court, initially submitted in September, the Justice Department argued that Trump’s history of attacking prosecutors, witnesses, and others involved in the case posed a threat to the integrity of the proceedings against him, and could potentially affect the jury pool. Prosecutors reiterated their request to Chutkan for restrictions on the former president’s statements after Trump publicly suggested that General Mark Milley should be put to death for treason.
“He is under the supervision of the criminal justice system and he must comply with the conditions of release,” Chutkan said Monday. “He does not have the right to say and do exactly as he pleases.”
At one point Chutkan stated that she was “deeply disturbed” by attacks Trump leveled against a clerk for N.Y. Judge Arthur Engoron, who is ruling on a civil fraud lawsuit brought against him by the state, earlier this month. Engoron slapped the former president with a partial gag order barring him from attacking court staff.
Chutkan and Trump’s attorneys have previously sparred over the former president’s public comments on the case. In August, the judge partially granted a protective order that would restrict Trump and his legal team’s ability to share sensitive evidence made available to them in the discovery phase of the trial. At the time, Chutkan warned Trump’s attorneys that she would not allow their client to engage in intimidation, attacks, or attempts to influence potential witnesses — conditions that had been placed upon him in his pre-trial release agreement.
When Trump’s attorneys argued on Monday that the former president had abided by the conditions of his release, and the existing conditions were working just fine, Chutkan laughed. “I have to take issue with that,” she said before noting that the prosecution had presented evidence linking Trump’s statements to harassment and intimidation against potential witnesses.
In anticipation of the hearing, Trump attempted to frame the Justice Department’s motion as an attack on his First Amendment rights and attacked Judge Chutkan and Special Counsel Jack Smith.
“A Leaking, Crooked and Deranged Prosecutor, Jack Smith […] is asking a highly partisan Obama appointed Judge, Tanya Chutkan, who should recuse herself based on the horrible things she has said, to silence me,” Trump wrote Sunday on Truth Social. “Through the use of a powerful GAG ORDER, making it impossible for me to criticize those who are doing the silencing, namely Crooked Joe Biden, and his corrupt and weaponized DOJ & FBI.”
“They want to take away my First Amendment rights, and my ability to both campaign and defend myself. In other words, they want to cheat and interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election,” he added.
The sentiment was echoed by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who says she sat in on one of the hearings despite the House’s own series of unresolved leadership crises. “I’m here at the Federal courthouse in DC as a member of the Oversight Committee to see if Judge Chutkan is really going to destroy the 1st amendment – free speech rights of former President Trump and leading candidate for President in 2024,” Greene wrote on X.
It’s narratives like these that prosecutors feel could threaten the integrity of the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston argued to Judge Chutkan that “the government’s sole objective with this motion is to ensure the fair administration of justice […] by preventing extrajudicial statements that prejudice the trial. We have no interest in stopping the defendant from running for office or defending his reputation.”
While Gaston acknowledged that crafting an order of this nature posed a challenge “the answer cannot be that the defendant is permitted to intentionally try this case in the court of public opinion and intentionally prejudice the venire.”