WASHINGTON (AFP): Prosecutors have asked a US judge to limit information Donald Trump can publicly discuss regarding the latest indictments against him, citing a threatening post by the ex-president that his campaign defended Saturday as “political speech.”
Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the charges against Trump for seeking to overturn the 2020 election, filed a motion Friday urging a federal judge to impose a protective order to prevent the former president from revealing evidentiary details about the case.
The judge, Tanya Chutkan, then issued a weekend order to Trump’s legal team that they respond to the government’s motion by 5:00 pm (2100 GMT) on Monday.
The fast-moving developments came in the wake of Trump appearing to defy a judge who had warned him not to discuss the case with any potential witnesses, and his posting of what is being seen as a threat on his social media platform.
“If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” Trump wrote in all caps Friday on Truth Social.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election, has pleaded not guilty to the four election conspiracy and obstruction charges — the most serious in the multiple cases he faces.
His social media post was cited and displayed in Smith’s motion to US District Court Judge Chutkan, which referenced Trump’s history of attacking people who were connected to criminal cases against him.
“All the proposed order seeks to prevent is the improper dissemination or use of discovery materials, including to the public,” prosecutors wrote in the motion.
“Such a restriction is particularly important in this case because the defendant has previously issued public statements on social media regarding witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others associated with legal matters pending against him.”
The motion went on to say that if the defendant were to issue public posts about details or grand jury transcripts obtained during the discovery process, “it could have a harmful, chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case.”
– Trump warned –
When Trump appeared in court in Washington on Thursday to enter his not guilty plea, he was given an unusual warning by a magistrate judge, Moxila Upadhyaya, against intimidating witnesses or obstructing justice.
“I want to remind you that it is a crime to try to influence a juror, or to threaten or attempt to bribe a witness or any other person who may have information about your case, or to retaliate against anyone for providing information about your case to the prosecution,” the judge said, in comments quoted by US media.
Trump’s campaign early Saturday sought to water down his social media post about “coming after” people, saying the 77-year-old billionaire was referring to his political opponents and not to anyone involved in the election interference case.
“The Truth post cited is the definition of political speech,” a Trump spokesperson said in a statement.
The back and forth is certain to inflame the tensions in Washington over Trump’s legal peril, which he and several Republican leaders have framed as an effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to sideline the Democrat’s chief political rival.
On Saturday night in South Carolina, Trump promised a thorough housecleaning of the “now totally corrupt” Justice Department and labeled Smith, the special prosecutor, “a maniac.”
“You take a look at that face, you say that guy is a sick man,” Trump said.
Trump vowed to appoint his own special prosecutor, if elected, to punish “all of the crooked acts including the bribes… that go into the coffers of the Biden crime family.”
The White House has stressed that the Department of Justice operates independently and that Biden’s team has no involvement in the cases against Trump.