Donald Trump ‘does not have the right to say and do exactly as he pleases’, Judge Tanya Chutkan said
A federal judge has barred Donald Trump from criticising prosecutors, the court and possible witnesses ahead of his trial on election subversion charges.
It follows recent remarks in which Mr Trump slammed prosecutors as “a team of thugs” and attacked one witness in the case as “a gutless pig”.
“Because he is running for president, he gets to make threats?” Judge Tanya Chutkan asked.
His lawyers said the comments were part of the “rough and tumble” of politics.
As Mr Trump campaigns once again for the White House, the Republican, 77, faces three other criminal trials next year.
His federal trial in Washington begins on 4 March – the same day as Super Tuesday, a pivotal day of voting in the 2024 Republican primary election.
Attorney John Lauro, who spoke on Mr Trump’s behalf in court on Monday, argued there was no need for a gag order if the trial was simply delayed until after the election.
Judge Chutkan, however, reaffirmed that the trial “will not yield to the 2024 election cycle”.
The former president was charged earlier this year over his alleged efforts to overturn his election defeat in 2020 at the hands of Democrat Joe Biden.
The four counts in his indictment were: conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy against the rights of citizens.
In August, Mr Trump returned to the nation’s capital and pleaded not guilty to each charge, later calling it the “persecution of a political opponent”.
In total, he faces 91 felony charges while remaining the dominant frontrunner to win the Republican presidential nod next year.
Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office had proposed a gag order in this case on the basis that Mr Trump’s comments could “prejudice” participants, from jurors to court staff, and have a “chilling” effect on witnesses.
“The defendant can’t be permitted to intentionally try this case in the court of public opinion,” government lawyer Molly Gaston argued on Monday.
That left Judge Chutkan in the tricky position of balancing the need to protect the legal proceedings with the former president’s free speech rights.
Her limited ruling was “narrowly tailored”, she said – not as far as the special counsel wanted, but doing enough to prevent a “public smear campaign”.