The federal judge leading former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial Friday related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results laid out guidelines for handling evidence before the trial.
US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan agreed with Trump’s attorneys to issue a protection order only for “sensitive” evidence in the case, but declined their offer for Trump to release details about interviewing witnesses in the cases to allow, as he considered them “sensitive”.
“They start publishing interview transcripts. What do you think will happen to these witnesses?” she asked Trump’s attorney, John Lauro, during the trial.
Chutkan also narrowly delineated the potential audience who might see the sensitive evidence, ultimately rejecting a suggestion by Trump’s defense team to allow consultants and unpaid volunteers to see the materials.
“I live in Washington: everyone is a consultant,” Chutkan said.
National Security Attorney Bradley Moss noted that “the irony of Trump’s team receiving their preferred version of the protective order is that Judge Chutkan now considers many things under that order to be sensitive.”
“So you’ve won the battle, but you’re losing the war.” he tweeted.
Chutkan said she struck a careful balance between Trump’s constitutional rights and other concerns about ensuring a fair trial and an impeccable jury pool when setting the rules. She made it clear that she had no intention of unilaterally giving in to federal prosecutors’ demands or giving Trump special treatment as a former president and Republican frontrunner in the primary, noting at the beginning of the hearing that while Trump has a right to free have an opinion, “This right is not absolute.”
Her order resolves some disagreements between Trump’s defense and Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team over the scope of a protective order, which governs how evidence is exchanged pretrial, which is routine in criminal trials.
“What the defendant is doing right now – the fact that he is running a political campaign has to give way to the proper administration of justice,” Chutkan told Lauro. “If that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, then so be it.”
Although prosecutors and defense attorneys often reach agreement on the terms of the protective order to facilitate the evidence-exchange process, that was not the case at Friday’s hearing. Trump’s attorneys Lauro and Todd Blanche called the government’s proposal “overkill,” an insult to the First Amendment and a formula to turn the court into a “censor,” emphasizing those concerns in the context of Trump’s presidential bid.
However, Chutkan dismissed the latter concern.
“I cannot and will not take into account in my decisions how this will affect a political election campaign on both sides,” she asserted, later adding that she wanted “to keep politics out of it”.
Andrew Feinberg, the Independent’s White House correspondent who followed the hearing, reported that Chutkan did so “not amused” as Trump’s lawyer repeatedly quoted his campaign.
Federal prosecutors disagreed with the defense’s argument, saying the former president would rather try the case in the media than in the courtroom. They were also concerned about Trump’s potential to use the information they provided to attack witnesses a post he made on Truth Social The day after his arraignment in Washington, he vowed to “go after” any enemies who come after him.
However, as Chutkan considered the government’s request to limit the release of “insensitive” materials, he questioned why prosecutors would label information as such when it could potentially be used to harm witnesses.
Prosecutor Thomas Windom said the Justice Department is trying to avoid “endless litigation” over the naming of the materials, noting that Trump must seek the court’s permission if he wants to release evidence.
However, Trump’s team declined, arguing that without further specification the protective order would become a “contempt trap,” citing that violators of the order could be punished by contempt of court, a sanction that could result in jail time.
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“I intend to ensure proper administration of justice in this case as in any other case,” Chutkan said reportedly explained to end the hearing. “Even arguably ambiguous testimony from parties or their attorneys…can jeopardize the process.”
“Furthermore, the more inflammatory language a party makes in this case that could weigh on the jury… the more urgent it will be that we proceed with the proceedings quickly… I will take all steps necessary to protect the integrity of these proceedings.” “, she said completed.
National Security Attorney Bradley Moss cited that comment as a “warning” that the DOJ “may get an early hearing” if it complies.
“I think the judge saw through her delaying tactics and will not go along with any of it,” Watergate Attorney Nick Akerman told MSNBC. “And I think that sends a clear message to Donald Trump that in January or February he will be in the dock and a jury will hear the evidence.”
CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen argued that the “most important moment” in the hearing was Chutkan’s warning that she would “not consider Trump’s campaign in her decisions.”
“If she applies this rule to flight planning, we will go to court in January 2024,” he predicted.
MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang predicted that “Lauro’s promise to Judge Chutkan that Trump will follow the ‘exact letter of the court order’ will haunt him. Guaranteed.”
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