(AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Friday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge in Washington who is in charge of the criminal case against former President Donald Trump to step in after Trump posted something online that seemed to say he would get back at anyone who goes after him.
Prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan for a protective order a day after Trump pleaded not guilty to trying to overturn his 2020 election loss and stop the peaceful transition of power. The order, which is not the same as a “gag order,” would limit what Trump and his legal team could say about the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith in public.
Such protective orders are standard in criminal cases. Still, prosecutors said it’s “crucial in this case” because Trump has posted on social media about “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others involved in legal matters pending against him.”
Prosecutors pointed to a post from earlier Friday on Trump’s Truth Social platform where he wrote in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m going after you!”
The prosecutors said they are ready to give Trump’s legal team “substantial” evidence, muchof which is “sensitive and confidential information.”
They told the judge that if Trump started posting about grand jury transcripts or other evidence from the Justice Department, it could “harm witnesses or hurt the fair administration of justice in this case.”
The proposed protective order from the prosecutors is meant to stop Trump and his lawyers from giving information from the government to anyone who is not on his legal team, a possible witness, the witness’ lawyer, or someone else the court approves. It would make “sensitive materials,” like grand jury witness testimony and things found with a sealed search warrant, subject to stricter rules.
A spokesperson for Trump said in an email that the former president’s post “is the definition of political speech” and was made in response to “dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs.”
In the indictment released this week, Trump is accused of brazenly plotting with allies to spread lies and come up with plans to overturn his election loss to President Joe Biden while his legal challenges failed in court.
The indictment describes how Trump and his Republican allies, in what Smith called an attack on a “bedrock function of the U.S. government,” repeatedly lied about the election results in the two months after he lost and put pressure on his vice president, Mike Pence, and state election officials to help him stay in power.
Trump is being charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and to stop Congress from recognizing Biden as the election winner.
It’s the third time this year that the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary has been charged with a crime. But this is the first case that tries to hold Trump accountable for what he did to stay in power in the chaotic weeks between losing the election and his supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
After his Thursday court appearance in front of a magistrate judge, Trump called the case a “persecution” meant to hurt his bid for president in 2024. His lawyers have said it is an attack on his right to free speech and questioning an election he thought was stolen.
Smith has said that prosecutors will try to get Trump’s election case tried as quickly as possible. Judge Chutkan has asked the government to propose a trial date in a brief due on Thursday. On August 28, Chutkan will hear the case for the first time.
Trump is already set to go to court in March and May. In March, he will be tried in New York for hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign, and in May, he will be tried in Florida for classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Richer wrote his story in Boston.