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US: Jack Smith requests gag order on Trump

September 16, 2023

The motion filed in the federal election interference case cited a post from Trump which said "If you go after me, I'm coming after you!" The Justice Department fears Trump's comments could prejudice the jury pool.

Donald Trump speaking outside his jet in August
Trump has said his freedom of speech is under attack by federal prosecutorsImage: Alex Brandon/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Federal prosecutors said Friday they were seeking a gag order to prevent former US President Donald Trump from making "inflammatory" and "intimidating" statements regarding witnesses, attorneys, and other individuals connected to the federal criminal case which accuses the former president of conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Special counsel Jack Smith's team filed a motion emphasizing the need for a "narrow, well-defined" order to protect the integrity of the case and avoid influencing potential jurors.

Trump shot back on his Truth Social platform saying, "They Leak, Lie, & Sue, & they won't allow me to SPEAK."

Later Friday, in a speech at the Concerned Women for America's Leadership Summit dinner in Washington, Trump said Smith "wants to take away my rights under the First Amendment" and "my right to speaking freely and openly."

"They want to silence me because I will never let them silence you," he said.

Prosecutors had expressed concerns about Trump's verbal attacks, but Friday's motion represents their first formal attempt to curb his speech, which they argue poses a risk of compromising the case and causing distress among court personnel and witnesses.

What does the motion say?

The motion outlines a pattern of "false and inflammatory" statements related to the case and remarks intended to intimidate or harass potential witnesses against Trump.

In their motion, prosecutors stated, "Since the grand jury returned an indictment in this case, the defendant has repeatedly and widely disseminated public statements attacking the citizens of the District of Columbia, the Court, prosecutors, and prospective witnesses. Through his statements, the defendant threatens to undermine the integrity of these proceedings and prejudice the jury pool."

They pointed out that Trump's rhetoric has already had an impact, citing jurors in the trial of an individual involved in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot expressing concerns about their identities being exposed.

If granted, the order would require Trump to significantly limit the type of comments he makes about the case. 

Trump's legal team also opposes the order, according to the prosecutors' motion. A spokesperson issued a statement asserting that prosecutors were "corruptly and cynically continuing to attempt to deprive President Trump of his First Amendment rights." 

In addition to the gag order, prosecutors requested an order preventing the Trump team from contacting District of Columbia residents for polling, jury studies, and focus groups without the judge's permission. They argued that these efforts aim to erode trust in the court system, mirroring Trump's false claims about the 2020 election results.

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What comments has Trump made?

The motion highlighted several statements made by Trump, including a post on Truth Social in which he warned, "If you go after me, I'm coming after you!" He has also repeatedly alleged on social media that the case against him is "rigged" and that he cannot receive a fair trial.

Furthermore, he has attacked the prosecutors in personal terms, referring to Special Counsel Smith's team as "thugs" and Judge Chutkan as biased.

The issue emerged last week when the Justice Department revealed its intention to file a motion related to Trump's "daily" public statements, which it feared could prejudice the jury pool.

Judge Chutkan granted prosecutors permission to publicly file a redacted motion on Friday, concealing the names and identifying information of individuals who claimed to be harassed due to Trump's attacks.

Additionally, Smith's team pushed back against the Trump team's request to have Judge Chutkan recuse herself from the case. Defense lawyers cited prior comments by Chutkan that they believed cast doubt on her impartiality, but prosecutors argued that there was no valid basis for her to step aside.

tg/wd (AFP, AP)