OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.
The tension between former President Donald Trump’s 2024 bid for the presidency and the realities of his status as a criminal defendant has been ratcheted up a notch after a federal judge barred Trump from attacking witnesses, prosecutors, and court staff involved in his criminal case in Washington, D.C.
“First Amendment protections yield to the administration of justice and to the protection of witnesses,” Judge Tanya Chutkan said Monday as she issued the gag order, Politico reported. “His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify … public servants who are simply doing their job.”
Special Counsel Jack Smith, who just got shut down by a federal judge, is now begging the judge presiding over the case against former President Donald Trump for 2020 election interference to protect potential jurors.
The ex-president was ordered to keep quiet after he made a public post on Truth Social about a law clerk during his New York civil fraud trial last week.
“Given that the defendant—after apparently reviewing opposition research on court staff—chose to use social media to publicly attack a court staffer, there is cause for concern about what he may do with social media research on potential jurors in this case,” Smith wrote in the motion.
Smith wrote that protections for prospective jurors are necessary for a number of reasons, but “chief among them is the defendant’s continued use of social media as a weapon of intimidation in court proceedings.”
Smith requested “reasonable and standard restrictions” to limit the ability of parties in the case “to conduct research on potential jurors during jury selection and trial and to use juror research.” He also urged strict enforcement of “standard practices in this District designed to shield juror identities from the public,” Axios noted.
Smith was recently thwarted again in his attempt to implicate another Republican as he widens his investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol Building after filing charges against Trump in association with events that day.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled earlier this month that Smith cannot have access to the phone records of Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) because allowing him to obtain that data amounts to a breach of the Republican lawmaker’s immunity under the Constitution’s “speech and debate” clause.
Smith was attempting to access Perry’s communications with colleagues and Trump administration officials, Politico reported. But the clause in question protects members of Congress from being dragged into legal proceedings while they are engaging in their elected official duties.
“While elections are political events, a member’s deliberation about whether to certify a presidential election or how to assess information relevant to legislation about federal election procedures are textbook legislative acts,” U.S. District Judge Neomi Rao wrote in the opinion issued last week.
The decision marked the the first time an appeals court has held that lawmakers’ cell phones are subject to the same protections as their physical offices.
It also was the first significant legal setback for Smith in his bid to obtain evidence about involvement by allies of Donald Trump in the then-president’s alleged effort to overturn the 2020 election, Politico reported.
Rao, a Trump appointee, was joined by another Trump appointee, Judge Gregory Katsas, and by Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush.
The three-judge panel’s ruling overturns a lower court decision by U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, who mostly sided with the government’s request to gain access to Perry’s cellphone data.
The appeals court remanded the case back to Howell’s jurisdiction and instructed her to apply the new ruling to any future decision in the case, according to the outlets.
Late last week, Smith’s team again requested that the federal judge overseeing Trump’s Jan. 6 case place a limited gag order on the former president.
The prosecutors told a judge that after their initial request for a gag order three weeks ago, the former president has continued to wage “a sustained campaign of prejudicial public statements” against witnesses, prosecutors, and others, The New York Times reported.
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump’s Jan. 6 case, has not ruled on the request from three weeks ago. Still, prosecutors added to that by mentioning statements the former president has made against people like former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible witness.
What prosecutors do not consider in their argument is that the former vice president is not only a potential witness but is also one of the former president’s opponents in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.