Trump campaign and court silence order collide with attack on likely witness

By | October 31, 2023

Former Attorney General William P. Barr made unflattering comments about Donald Trump on Thursday. Twice over the weekend, the former president responded — first by insulting Barr’s appearance in a campaign speech, then by calling him “gutless” and “weak” on social media social.

But one of those comments came just after a court order barring Trump from going after witnesses — such as Barr — who could testify at trial about his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Minutes before Truth Social’s publication, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan reimposed a gag order barring Trump from making comments that “target… any reasonably foreseeable witness” in the federal case to Washington, accusing him of illegal interference in the 2020 elections.

When he published an article about Barr, his lawyers had not yet informed Trump that the silence order was in effect and that he did not intend to violate it, according to a campaign aide. Minutes after Barr’s insult, Trump wrote that he had just learned the silence order had been reinstated after a week-long pause related to his planned call. He added a half-dozen posts attacking President Biden, the Justice Department, the indictment against him and Chutkan herself — comments that do not violate the order.

For now, he’s following the line she set. But his Whether Chutkan will comply with the rules of the silence order and whether he will be able to police him if he does not will be a constant question over the next five months as he campaigns and prepares for the March trial in Washington.

Trump claims he has been unconstitutionally muzzled as his political enemies play dual roles as potential witnesses against him in court and public figures weighing in on the 2024 race. In New York state court, where he faces civil fraud charges , Trump was fined several times for disparaging a court clerk, and even being called last week to briefly testify about a comment he made outside the courtroom about the judge in the case.

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“The American people have the right to hear from President Trump, the leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election, and no court or prosecutor can be allowed to commit election interference,” the spokesperson said. the Trump campaign, Steven Cheung. Cheung said Trump has a “constitutional right to tell the truth to all Americans” and that “even the ACLU agrees this needs to go.” The free speech advocacy group has often clashed with the Trump administration in court.

The most obvious conflict between the 2024 campaign and Chutkan’s order was embodied by former Vice President Mike Pence – a key witness to the events of January 6 who made the decision not to join the anti-democratic plans of Trump, as part of his campaign speech. That conflict no longer exists now that Pence has suspended his campaign, putting him in line with any other witness at trial.

But several possible witnesses are also now prominent Trump critics, including Barr, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, and former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson.

The former president’s staff says he tries to follow both orders, but has difficulty controlling himself. It is this lack of discipline that Barr commented on last week at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. In the exchange that seemed to inspire Trump’s anger, Barr was actually defending his former boss’ vocation Hezbollahwhich has been designated a terrorist group by the United States, is “highly intelligent”, suggesting that the former president misspoke because “his verbal skills are limited”.

“The adjectives are unfamiliar to him, they kind of spill out and he goes too far,” Barr said. He then called Trump a “very petty man” with “a very fragile ego” who would likely cause “chaos” in a second term.

Trump and his lawyers say it is unfair for the former president to leave such criticism unanswered and that it is impossible for him to campaign without such comments because he placed the 2020 election and the events of January 6 at the heart of his re-election speech.

Barr and other witnesses “seem to enjoy the notoriety they have gained through their proximity to Trump” and “give what they can,” his lawyer John Lauro argued in court.

Chutkan was unmoved by these arguments, saying that as a criminal defendant, Trump must abide by restrictions that his critics do not. She said that by allowing Trump to engage in verbal attacks against the Justice Department, President Biden and herself, her campaign message was not unduly drowned out by the order.

The issue will soon come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The challenge could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has never ruled on the constitutionality of silence orders issued against criminal defendants.

“I don’t know how they would cope with it,” said Paul Hoffman, who pleaded a silence order in the civil lawsuit against OJ Simpson as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California. “I think the order raises some pretty important constitutional questions, particularly in the context of someone running for president.”

The national ACLU came out in favor of Trump, All right that the order is too broad in covering testimony expected on Jan. 6 and the 2020 election — “key points in the ongoing 2024 presidential campaign” — and too vague on what it means to “target” a witness.

Chutkan said in his decision on Sunday that it can resolve the problem of vagueness by examining the “substance and context” of alleged violations. And she noted that Trump’s own messages, which complied with the order when he believed it was in effect and did not do so when he did not, showed that his decision was “directly understood” . The breadth of the order, she said, was necessary given that when Trump “targeted certain people in public statements in the past,” it “led to them being threatened and harassed.”

The ACLU stated that this concern was valid but that “the First Amendment does not authorize the Court to impose judicial silence on the defendant simply because third parties who hear his public statements may behave badly of their own accord.”

Hoffman said he thought the ACLU’s argument went “too far” and that Chutkan could rely “on a history of violent episodes in response to Trump’s comments” about individuals. But he added that an appeals court might well say that the attempt to regulate this conduct must be less sweeping.

“Trump’s megaphone creates a whole different dynamic,” he said. “That’s what the judge is struggling with.”

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