The U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge overseeing the criminal case against Donald Trump in Washington to step in after the former president released a post online that appeared to promise revenge on anyone who goes after him.
Prosecutors on Friday requested that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issue a protective order concerning evidence in the case, a day after Trump pleaded not guilty to charges of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and block the peaceful transition of power.
The order, different from a “gag order,” would limit what information Trump and his legal team could share publicly about the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith.
Chutkan on Saturday gave Trump’s legal team until 5 p.m. Monday to respond to the government’s request.
Trump’s legal team, which has indicated he would look to slow the case down despite prosecutors’ pledge of a speedy trial, then filed a request to extend the response deadline to Thursday and to hold a hearing on the matter.
“Defendant is prepared to confer in good faith regarding an appropriate protective order and hopes the government will accept his invitation to do so,” wrote Trump’s lawyers. They criticized prosecutors for filing their proposal without giving the two sides enough time to discuss.
Such protective orders are common in criminal cases, but prosecutors said it’s “particularly important in this case” because Trump has posted on social media about “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others associated with legal matters pending against him.”
Prosecutors pointed specifically to Trump’s post on his Truth Social platform from earlier Friday in which he wrote, in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”
Prosecutors said they are ready to hand over a “substantial” amount of evidence — “much of which includes sensitive and confidential information” — to Trump’s legal team.
They told the judge that if Trump were to begin posting about grand jury transcripts or other evidence provided by the Justice Department, it could have a “harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case.”
The prosecutors’ proposed protective order seeks to prevent Trump and his lawyers from disclosing materials provided by the government to anyone other than people on his legal team, possible witnesses, the witnesses’ lawyers or others approved by the court.
It would put stricter limits on “sensitive materials,” which would include grand jury witness testimony and materials obtained through sealed search warrants.
Chutkan, a former assistant public defender nominated to the bench by former U.S. president Barack Obama, has been one of the toughest punishers of rioters who stormed the Capitol in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, fuelled by Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election.
The indictment unsealed this past week accuses Republican Trump of brazenly conspiring with allies to spread falsehoods and concoct schemes intended to overturn his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden as his legal challenges floundered in court.
The indictment chronicles how Trump and his allies, in what Smith described as an attack on a “bedrock function of the U.S. government,” repeatedly lied about the results in the two months after he lost the election and pressured his vice-president, Mike Pence, and state election officials to take action to help him cling to power.
Trump faces charges including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
Protective order previously issued in documents case
It’s the third criminal case brought this year against the the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. But it’s the first case to try to hold Trump responsible for his efforts to remain in power during the chaotic weeks between his election loss and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Smith has also charged Trump in Florida federal court with illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and with thwarting government efforts to get them back.
The magistrate judge in that case agreed to a protective order in June that prohibits Trump and his legal team from publicly disclosing evidence turned over to them by prosecutors without prior approval. Prosecutors are seeking another protective order in that case with more rules about the defence team’s handling of classified evidence.
After his court appearance on Thursday in the Washington case, Trump characterized the prosecution as a “persecution” designed to hurt his 2024 presidential campaign. His legal team has described it as an attack on his right to free speech and his right to challenge an election that he believed had been stolen.
Smith has said prosecutors will seek a “speedy trial” against Trump in the election case. Judge Chutkan has ordered the government to file a brief by Thursday proposing a trial date. The first court hearing in front of Chutkan is scheduled for Aug. 28.
Trump is already scheduled to stand trial in March in the New York case stemming from hush-money payments allegedly made during the 2016 campaign and in May in the classified documents case.