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“Not amused”: Judge sent Trump a “clear message” that he risks early trial if he keeps up attacks

The federal judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s criminal case in connection to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election on Friday set the guidelines for handling evidence ahead of trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan agreed with Trump’s attorneys to only issue a protective order regarding “sensitive” evidence in the case but rejected their bid to allow Trump to publicize details about interviews from witnesses in the cases, deeming them “sensitive.”

“You start releasing interview transcripts, what do you think is going to happen to those witnesses?” she asked Trump’s attorney John Lauro during the proceedings.

Chutkan also narrowly delineated the potential pool of people who can view the sensitive evidence, ultimately dismissing a proposal from Trump’s defense team to permit consultants and unpaid volunteers to see the materials.

“I live in Washington: Anyone is a consultant,” Chutkan said.

National security attorney Bradley Moss noted the “irony of Trump’s team getting their preferred version of the protective order is that Judge Chutkan is now designating a lot of stuff as sensitive under that order.”

“So they won the battle but are losing the war,” he tweeted.

In establishing the rules, Chutkan said she struck a careful balance between Trump’s constitutional rights with other concerns for ensuring a fair trial and an untainted jury pool. She made clear that she had no intention of unilaterally acquiescing to federal prosecutors’ demands, or showing Trump any special treatment as both a former president and GOP primary frontrunner, noting at the start of the hearing that while Trump has a right to free speech, “that right is not absolute.”

Her order resolves some disagreements between Trump’s defense and special counsel Jack Smith’s team regarding the scope of a protective order governing how evidence is shared before trial, which is a routine feature of criminal cases. 

“What the defendant is currently doing — the fact that he’s running a political campaign has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan told Lauro. “If that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, that’s how it has to be.”

Though prosecutors and defense lawyers often reach an agreement on the terms of the protective order to facilitate the evidence-sharing process, that outcome was not the case in Friday’s hearing. Trump’s attorneys, Lauro and Todd Blanche, characterized the government’s proposal as “overbroad,” an insult to the First Amendment and a formula to fashion the court into a “censor,” emphasizing those concerns over the backdrop of Trump’s presidential bid.

Chutkan, however, dismissed the latter concern.

“I cannot and I will not factor into my decisions how it will factor into a political campaign on both sides,” she asserted, later adding that she intends to “keep politics out of this.”

Andrew Feinberg, an Independent reporter who was in the courtroom, reported that Chutkan was “not amused” as Trump’s attorney repeatedly cited his campaign.

Federal prosecutors challenged the defense’s argument by countering that the former president aims to try the case in the media rather than in the courtroom. They were also concerned with Trump’s potential to use the information they provide to attack witnesses, citing a post he made on Truth Social the day after his arraignment in D.C. vowing to “come after” any foes who go after him.

But, when assessing the government’s request to restrict the release of “non-sensitive” materials, Chutkan questioned why prosecutors would designate information as such if it could potentially be used to harm witnesses.

Prosecutor Thomas Windom said that the Justice Department is seeking to skirt “endless litigation” over the materials’ designations, therefore establishing that Trump would have to get permission from the court if he wanted to share any evidence.

Trump’s team, however, pushed back, arguing that without more specificity, the protective order would become a “contempt trap,” referencing how violations of the order could be punished with contempt of court, a sanction that could result in jail time.

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“I intend to ensure the orderly administration of justice in this case as I would with any other case,” Chutkan reportedly declared to close out the hearing. “Even arguably ambiguous statements from parties or their counsel … can threaten the process.”

“In addition, the more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool … the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly … I will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of these proceedings,” she concluded.

National security attorney Bradley Moss cited that comment as a “warning” that if he keeps t, the “DOJ might get their early trial date.”

“I think the judge has seen through their delay tactics and she’s not going to take any of it,” Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman told MSNBC. “And I think this is a clear message to Donald Trump that he is going to be in the dock in January or February, and a jury is going to be listening to the evidence.”

CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen argued that the “single most important moment” in the hearing was Chutkan’s warning that she “will not factor” Trump’s campaign into her decisions.

“If she applies that rule to the scheduling order we are going to trial in Jan. 2024,” he predicted.

MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang predicted that “Lauro’s promise to Judge Chutkan that Trump will follow the ‘precise letter of the court’s order’ will come back to haunt him. Guaranteed.”

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