Trump blasts special counsel's gag order request in federal election case

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech at the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee’s (CWALAC) 2023 Leadership Summit in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2023. 

Leah Millis | Reuters

Attorneys for Donald Trump urged a judge not to impose a partial gag order on the former president in his federal election interference case, claiming that prosecutors are trying to “unconstitutionally silence” him.

The rhetorically charged court filing, submitted late Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., accused special counsel Jack Smith and other federal prosecutors of seeking to strip Trump of his First Amendment free speech rights “during the most important months of his campaign” for president.

Trump’s lawyers claimed the administration of President Joe Biden, who is running for reelection, is trying to muzzle “its most prominent political opponent, who has now taken a commanding lead in the polls.”

“The Court should reject this transparent gamesmanship and deny the motion entirely,” they wrote in the 25-page filing.

They also asked Judge Tanya Chutkan to schedule a hearing “at the first opportunity.”

The federal case charges Trump in connection with a multi-pronged conspiracy to overturn his loss to Biden in the 2020 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty in the case, which is set to head to trial in March.

As part of the conspiracy, the four-count indictment alleges Trump waged a disinformation campaign by spreading false claims of widespread voter fraud.

Smith in a mid-September court filing told Chutkan that Trump “is now attempting to do the same thing in this criminal case — to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and prejudice the jury pool” through his attacks.

Smith asked the judge to impose what he called “a narrow, well-defined restriction” on “certain prejudicial extrajudicial” statements made by Trump and other parties in the case.

Those would include statements targeting prospective witnesses, as well as “statements about any party, witness, attorney, court personnel, or potential jurors that are disparaging and inflammatory, or intimidating.”

Smith warned the judge that Trump’s repeated attacks could “undermine the integrity of these proceedings” and taint the jury pool.

The court filing cited numerous social media posts from Trump’s Truth Social account railing against Chutkan, the prosecutors and the city of Washington itself.

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It also accused Trump of spreading “knowingly false” claims about a federal prosecutor in the special counsel’s office as part of an attempt “to prejudice the public and the venire in advance of trial.”

But Trump’s attorneys shot back that Smith “does not present one shred of evidence to demonstrate” its claims.

“It is absurd to suggest the prosecution and the Court are ‘intimidated’ by critical social media posts,” they wrote in Monday’s filing.

“The prosecution may not like President’s Trump’s entirely valid criticisms, but neither it nor this Court are the filter for what the public may hear,” the lawyers wrote.

They also argued that Smith’s reference to “prospective witnesses” is too vague, and “could arguably include many of President Trump’s political rivals in the upcoming election.”

“Thus, the Proposed Gag Order places President Trump at risk of contempt any time he speaks about anyone relevant to his political campaign,” the lawyers wrote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Smith, a former chief prosecutor for the special court at the Hague, as special counsel to take charge of ongoing federal criminal investigations of Trump.

Garland made the appointment, which allowed the investigator to work with a degree of independence from the Department of Justice, in response to Trump’s launch of his 2024 presidential campaign.

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