Trump team seeks to limit protection order in US election interference case

Prosecutors have requested a protection order to shield evidence from being published or misused to sway witnesses.

Wearing a "Make America Great Again" baseball camp, Donald Trump waves from inside a golf cart.
Former US President Donald Trump has said he would return to the Iowa State Fair this year as part of his reelection campaign [File: Joshua Lott/Reuters]

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump have called for a United States judge to reject a protection order that would limit the Republican leader’s ability to disclose evidence from an upcoming criminal case.

Trump faces federal criminal charges for alleged efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Prosecutors have argued that a protection order is needed to prevent sensitive materials from being released to the public.

But in court papers on Monday, the defence team argued the requested order was too broad and could curtail Trump’s right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

“In a trial about First Amendment rights, the government seeks to restrict First Amendment rights,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. They called for Judge Tanya Chutkan to dismiss the “blanket gag order”.

The request for a protection order comes ahead of what is known as a “discovery” period, when the prosecution and defence teams share information they may present in court.

This allows both sides to be able to prepare their arguments before they face a judge and jury.

But prosecutors involved in the latest Trump indictment fear the former president could use some of the evidence to potentially intimidate witnesses.

They cited as evidence an August 4 post Trump wrote on his platform Truth Social, which read in all capital letters: “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”

“If the defendant were to begin issuing public posts using details — or, for example, grand jury transcripts — obtained in discovery here, it could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case,” the prosecutors wrote in their request on Friday.

They also noted that Trump “had previously issued public statements” attacking key figures in the various legal cases against him.

Since the latest indictment was unsealed, Trump has used his social media platform to call Special Counsel Jack Smith “deranged” and push for the judge in the case, Chutkan, to recuse herself.

Trump’s legal team, however, has described such commentary as “generalised political speech”. It called the alleged risks to witnesses “a provocative claim” designed to spark headlines, but “one that falters under minimal scrutiny”.

This is not the first time the Trump legal team faces a request for a protection order, however.

The first criminal charges Trump faced — in a New York state court — likewise prompted a protection order from Judge Juan Merchan. In May, Merchan called for Trump to be limited in what evidence he could review, copy or disseminate without court approval.

That case involves alleged hush-money payments made during the 2016 presidential race.

And for Trump’s second criminal indictment, concerning his handling of classified government documents, Judge Bruce Reinhart issued another protective order in June. Trump has denied wrongdoing in all three criminal indictments.

But in Monday’s court filings, defence lawyers argued that the most recent federal indictment — which alleges Trump used illicit means to tip the 2020 election in his favour — will factor heavily into the upcoming 2024 presidential race.

Trump is currently the leading candidate for the Republican nomination. His legal team said a protective order too broad would stifle his ability to react to criticisms opponents might lodge.

“The [Biden] administration, prominent party members and media allies have campaigned on the indictment and proliferated its false allegations,” Trump’s legal team said in Monday’s filings.

Monday marked the deadline the Trump team had to respond to the latest call for a protection order. Judge Chutkan had dismissed a request for an extension on Saturday.

Trump is set to continue his campaign for a second term in office later this month at the Iowa State Fair, considered a critical campaign stop for presidential hopefuls.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies