U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan threatened Friday to expedite Donald Trump’s trial on charges linked to his attempt to undermine the 2020 election if he and his attorney continued to make “inflammatory” statements about the case.
During the hearing, Chutkan urged Trump’s attorney, John Lauro, “I caution you and your client to take special care in your public statements about this case.” “I will do whatever it takes to protect the legitimacy of these proceedings,” he said.
At the end of the first day of court proceedings in the latest criminal case against the former president, Chutkan issued a stern warning. The purpose of the session was to iron out differences in evidence handling between the prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith and Trump’s legal team. Prosecutors believe they are ready to provide millions of pages of papers with Trump’s team once Chutkan issues a so-called “protective order” controlling evidence, which would kickstart the case and put it on a path to trial.
But Chutkan, who was under intense scrutiny for her handling of the highly charged case, insisted on several occasions that she would not allow politics to influence her decisions and would treat Trump the same as any other criminal defendant. As an example, if he makes comments that could be interpreted as harassing or threatening to witnesses, he may face repercussions.
“The fact that he is running a political campaign has to yield to the orderly administration of justice,” Chutkan remarked. “If that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, then that’s how it has to be.”
“Even arguably ambiguous statements from parties or their counsel, if they can be reasonably interpreted to intimidate witnesses or to prejudice potential jurors, can threaten the process,” Chutkan later stated. The more one side “makes inflammatory statements about this case that could taint the jury pool,” the more crucial it will be to get to trial as soon as possible.
The hearing was Chutkan’s first major involvement in the case, in which Trump is accused of three plots to thwart Joe Biden’s assumption of the presidency following the 2020 election. Trump has publicly criticised Obama’s appointee Chutkan on multiple occasions and called for her to recuse herself without providing any evidence. However, Lauro has not responded positively to Trump’s call.
Prosecutors have also raised concerns about comments Trump has made about Vice President Mike Pence in recent days, due to Pence’s expected role as a star witness. Although Chutkan clarified that she was not ruling on any particular Trump statement, she did issue a “general word of caution.”
“To the extent your client wants to make statements on the internet, that has to yield to witness security,” she said earlier in the hearing.
Trump, Lauro insisted several times, would “scrupulously abide by his conditions of release.”
At the same time, the hearing paved the way for prosecutors to present a mountain of evidence to Trump’s defence team. The staggering number of 11.6 million “pages or files” that senior assistant special counsel Thomas Windom indicated they were willing to disclose with the defence as soon as today prompted Chutkan to quip that it would definitely affect Trump’s anticipated trial date.
However, the prosecution is pushing to have the case tried as soon as possible, on January 2, arguing that doing so is in the public interest. Windom stressed that the enormous amount of evidence had been “extraordinarily” organised so that Trump’s staff could quickly and easily sift through it.
The majority of Friday’s hearings was on setting limits on Trump’s consideration of the case’s evidence. Chutkan started off by opposing the special counsel’s plan to essentially forbid Trump from disclosing any details of the evidence he analyses.
“I don’t want this order to be overinclusive,” she emphasised. However, “I don’t want to just issue a blanket protective order over information that is not sensitive.”
During the course of Trump’s presidential campaign, Chutkan has regularly brought up Trump’s First Amendment rights. Her stated mission was to promote “the orderly administration of justice.”
“Mr. Trump, like every American, is guaranteed the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. But,” she emphasised, “that right is not absolute. As stated in the arraignment release conditions, “the defendant’s free speech is subject to the release conditions imposed and must yield to the orderly administration of justice.”
Lauro stressed the political nature of the case multiple times, pointing out its impact on Trump’s campaign and how prosecutors may accuse him of violating evidence-sharing agreements during routine encounters with opponents like Pence on the campaign trail. He thought this would help Biden’s chances at reelection.
But Chutkan argued that such factors could not enter into her judgements, noting that Lauro was “conflating what your client needs to do to defend himself and what your client wants to do politically.”
It is improper for “your client’s defence” to take place “on the internet,” as Chutkan put it.
Concerns were also expressed by prosecutors regarding Trump’s request to be allowed to study sealed documents without being accompanied by a member of his legal team.
Windom argued that defence attorneys have more faith in their clients than the prosecution did. The defendant may choose to make a copy or other reproduction, or take a photograph, of the confidential materials while he has exclusive access to them. In the company of [counsel], one faces far less of that danger… He has a propensity to hoard things he knows are bad for him.
Chutkan agreed with the defense’s request to allow Trump to review sensitive evidence without being accompanied by a member of his legal team, but he imposed conditions on Trump’s review of this evidence, including that he must do so without any electronic devices capable of reproducing it and that his team must review any notes he takes to ensure they don’t include the personally identifying information of witnesses.
Chutkan agreed with the prosecution’s request to place “hundreds” of recordings and transcripts of interviews with witnesses under the category of “sensitive” documents that cannot be made public. The judge also denied a request from Trump’s legal team to allow a much wider range of Trump aides to see evidence in the case, something that Lauro had argued was important due to the tight timeframe and massive amount of data being collected by the prosecution.
“The definition you have currently is too broad,” she remarked. Almost anyone can use it. I call the great state of Washington home. A consultant might be anyone.