A federal judge, Tanya Chutkan, has issued a gag order on former President Donald Trump in his criminal case related to his efforts to subvert the 2020 election. The order prohibits Trump from attacking witnesses, prosecutors, and court staff involved in the case. Judge Chutkan emphasized that First Amendment protections yield to the administration of justice and the protection of witnesses. Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin on March 4, and Chutkan stated that the trial date will not change.
Complying with the gag order will require a significant shift in Trump’s public demeanor, as he frequently uses social media and rally speeches to criticize his lead federal prosecutor, special counsel Jack Smith, and the lawyers working under him. Trump has also targeted known witnesses in the case, such as retired Gen. Mark Milley and former Attorney General Bill Barr.
Judge Chutkan warned that she would consider imposing sanctions if Trump violates the gag order. The potential punishments could range from restrictions on his use of social media to pretrial incarceration. This is the second time in two weeks that a judge has attempted to limit Trump’s attacks, as a Manhattan judge issued a limited gag order in an ongoing civil trial over alleged business fraud.
While Chutkan did not restrict Trump’s ability to criticize Washington, D.C., or the Biden administration, she emphasized that he cannot launch a “pretrial smear campaign” against potential witnesses. The judge acknowledged Trump’s right to weigh in on public policy issues but stated that his statements could influence jurors, intimidate witnesses, or generate threats.
During the hearing, Trump’s attorney, John Lauro, defended the former president’s First Amendment rights but also acknowledged advising against using certain language in social media posts. Lauro described the prosecutions against Trump as signs of a nation veering into “totalitarianism” and “tyranny.”
Judge Chutkan expressed concern about Trump’s attacks on the New York judge’s clerk while the gag order request was pending. She admonished Lauro for engaging in political rhetoric and reminded him to answer her questions.
The ruling by Judge Chutkan raises the possibility of punishment for Trump if he continues to publicly attack the prosecution team or potential witnesses. However, the judge did not impose restrictions on Trump’s claims of a political vendetta or his criticism of Washington, D.C., and its residents.