Trump’s lawyers argue proposed protective order in 2020 election case violates free speech


Donald Trump’s lawyers on Monday urged a Washington, D.C., federal judge to restrict only “genuinely sensitive materials” in the former U.S. president’s 2020 election case from being released to the public ahead of trial.

“In a trial about First Amendment rights, the government seeks to restrict First Amendment rights,” Trump’s lawyers said in court papers filed on Monday, referring to the right of free speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Prosecutors on Friday had asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan for a protective order limiting how evidence from the trial may be handled. That filing pointed to a post from Trump on his Truth Social site that said, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

U.S. special counsel Jack Smith’s office said the post could suggest that Trump, front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, might intimidate witnesses by improperly disclosing confidential evidence received from prosecutors.

Protective orders are typically issued in criminal cases.

Chutkan said late Monday that she would hold a hearing on the duelling proposals and that Trump would not have to attend.

WATCH | Prosecutors try to limit what Trump can say about latest criminal charges: 

Prosecutors try to limit what Trump can say about latest criminal charges

Lawyers for Donald Trump are under a deadline to respond to a request by U.S. federal prosecutors to limit what the former president can say about the evidence presented in his latest legal battle. Trump has pleaded not guilty to four charges that he conspired to overturn the 2020 election.

Monday’s court filing from Trump’s lawyers did not directly address the claims of potential witness intimidation by their client.

Trump on Thursday pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he orchestrated a plot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden. It was the third criminal case brought against Trump so far this year.

At his arraignment on Thursday, Trump swore not to intimidate witnesses or communicate with them about the case without legal counsel present.

Under a process known as discovery, prosecutors must provide defendants with the evidence against them so they can prepare a defence. Prosecutors in their filing on Friday said they are prepared to provide Trump with a “substantial amount” of evidence once a protective order is issued.

A person poses for a portrait photograph.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has been asked by prosecutors to issue a protective order that limits how evidence from Trump’s trial on charges that he orchestrated a plot to try to overturn his 2020 election loss may be handled. Chutkan said late Monday that she would hold a hearing and that Trump would not have to attend. (U.S. Courts/Reuters)

A Trump spokesperson on Saturday denied that the Friday post was related to the trial, saying instead that Trump was attacking people dubbed “Republicans in Name Only” or RINOs.

But Trump’s social media posts attacking both the case and Chutkan have escalated since prosecutors’ Friday court filing. He has said he will seek Chutkan’s recusal in the case, although his lawyers have yet to officially make such a request.

Chutkan has previously ruled against Trump in a civil lawsuit seeking to block White House records from a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters. She has also strongly spoken out against the Capitol attack in criminal cases stemming from the riots. Prior court rulings are not enough to require a federal judge to step aside from a case.

Trump lawyer John Lauro has said he will seek to transfer the 2020 election case from Washington, D.C., to West Virginia. While criminal cases are sometimes tried in different locations than where they are brought in order to find an impartial jury, others charged in the Capitol siege have failed in trying to have their criminal cases transferred out of the Washington federal trial court.

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