A federal judge on Monday issued a scathing order against former President Donald Trump, limiting what he can say about special counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecution of his alleged efforts to disrupt the 2020 presidential election.
The order limits Trump’s ability to publicly target court personnel, potential witnesses or the special counsel and his staff. The order does not impose restrictions on certain comments about Washington, D.C., — where the arbitration is held — or disparaging comments about the judiciary, both of which the government sought.
“This is not about whether I like the language that Trump is using,” Judge Tanya Sudken said. “It’s about language that endangers the administration of justice.”
“His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to disparage public servants who are simply doing their jobs,” the judge added.
Following two federal indictments against the former president, Trump has lashed out at lawyers, potential witnesses and the judge overseeing the election fraud case in Washington. Lawyers for special counsel Jack Smith’s office say the comments are enough to give Trump a narrow limit on his speech around the case.
PinchingA frequent target of Trump’s attacks, the former president has warned that comments he or his lawyers make could threaten a lawsuit.
“Mr. Trump is a criminal offender. He has four felony charges against him. He is under the supervision of the criminal justice system and must follow the conditions of his release,” Sudgan said during Monday’s hearing.
“He has no right to say and do whatever he wants. Do you agree with that?” He asked Trump lawyer John LaRoe, who replied: “100%.”
Trump’s lawyers have attacked the proposed order as a violation of his First Amendment rights, suggesting the order is merely a one-way street. President Joe Biden And the Justice Department hurt Trump’s ability to campaign.
Lauro accused the special counsel’s office of trying to “prevent President Trump from talking about the issues of the day,” adding that “every issue related to this case has political issues.”
In social media posts, Trump has attacked Sudkan as an “impartial, Trump-hating judge” and Smith as a “confused” and “thug” who has attacked individual members of his team.
“If you start using a word like ‘thug’ to describe a lawyer doing their job, that’s not allowed by any other criminal defendant,” Sutken said. “The defendant is not allowed to do whatever he wants because he is running a political campaign.”
He added: “The message Mr. Trump wants to convey is that ‘my case is politically motivated,'” and he can do so without using “too many words.”
Sudken on Monday pushed Lauro over Trump’s public posts targeting Smith’s office, saying his “highly accusatory language” pushes the limits of what a criminal defendant can say publicly about their legal case.
The judge said Trump’s “complicated” record could harm Smith and his team, and questioned why Trump’s attorneys should not be restricted from publicly attacking the lawyers during the trial.
Sutgen specifically pointed to a Truth Social post that referred to former President Smith as a “thug,” asking Lauro: “You think it’s appropriate to call a criminal defendant, prosecutor, a thug. In the streets?”
“‘No one will free me from this meddling priest,'” said Sutgen.
Lauro blasted the proposed restrictions on Trump’s ability to debate prosecutors, saying “what kind of words does one use to fight oppression” or “a society that he believes is headed toward totalitarianism.”“
“President Trump strongly believes these actions are being carried out by a politically motivated attorney,” Lauro added.
His word choices prompted Sudkhan to tone down his language. The judge sat back in his chair, shaking his head as Lauro spoke. She reminded him repeatedly that Trump, as a criminal defendant, could face court-imposed restrictions on what he can say publicly about those involved in the case.
Lauro agreed, but argued that implementing more restrictions while he’s campaigning for president is impossible, and all Trump has said so far is obeying court orders.
During the hearing, Sutgen told Lauro about Trump’s release conditions that “whatever you have is what works.” The judge laughed out loud in response to Lauro’s claim and told the attorney to stop making political arguments in his courtroom.
Lauro’s arguments prompted Sutkan to cut him off several times, as he argued that Trump should not be restricted in what he can say while campaigning for president.
Lauro at one point accused the special counsel’s office of “trying to prevent President Trump from talking about the issues of the day” through the proposed gag order.
But Sutkan made it clear he would not tolerate such rhetoric in his courtroom.
“Politics stands at the door of this courthouse,” he said.
Sutgen reminded Lauro that Trump is a criminal defendant who can’t intimidate witnesses or jurors while awaiting trial, not Joe Biden.
“We have no interest in stopping the defendant from running for office or protecting his reputation, nor does our proposed order do that,” attorney Molly Gaston said during the hearing.
“It’s about the participants in this trial, the witnesses,” Gaston added. “It is limited to those individuals, and it is limited to statements intended to influence the venue or potential jurors.”
The trial date set for early March will not change, the judge added: “This trial will not lead to an election cycle, and we will not revisit the trial date.”
Prosecutors say Trump’s attacks on potential witnesses — including former Vice President Mike Pence and former Attorney General Bill Barr — could lead to witness intimidation by his followers.
“Defendant’s incessant public postings expressing anger and distrust of the justice system, the court and attorneys have already affected the public,” prosecutors filed last month. “For example, on August 5, 2023, a man was arrested because he called courtrooms and made racist death threats to the court that were tied to the court’s role in handling the defendant’s case.”
They told the judge Monday that their goal was not to keep Trump from campaigning.
“We have no interest in stopping the defendant from running for office or protecting his reputation, nor does our proposed order do that,” Gaston said.
“It’s about the participants in this trial, the witnesses,” Gaston added. “It is limited to those individuals and it is limited to statements intended to influence the venue or potential jurors.”
When he first appeared in Sutkan’s court at the end of August on charges that he acted illegally to overturn the 2020 election results, the judge warned Trump against making “shocking” comments in the case.
“Legal hearings are not like elections, which must be won through meeting halls, radio and newspapers,” Sutgen said later, adding: “I will take all necessary steps to preserve the integrity of these proceedings.”
Any restrictions on Trump’s speech, however narrow, could be brought up in appeals in the case, with defense attorneys claiming that the federal cases against Trump are being rushed to secure a conviction against him before the election.
If Sudhan decides to impose restrictions on what a former president can say, he wouldn’t be the first judge to do so.
In early October, the judge overseeing the New York civil fraud trial against Trump issued a scathing order against the former president after he assaulted an employee of the courthouse.
“Consider this statement restraining all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about members of my staff,” Judge Arthur Engoren said after Trump accused his clerk of being a friend of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and called for her impeachment. Social media post.
“Failure to comply…will result in severe economic sanctions,” Engoron said.
This story has been updated with additional updates.