By Alanna Durkin Richer | Associated Press
Donald Trump’s legal team on Monday urged the judge overseeing the election conspiracy case against the former president to reject prosecutors’ proposed protective order concerning evidence in the case, saying it is overly broad and restrictive of his First Amendment rights.
Lawyers for the early 2024 Republican presidential primary front-runner said the judge should impose a more limited protective order that would prevent the public disclosure of only materials deemed “sensitive” — such as grand jury documents — rather than all evidence handed over by the government in the case accusing Trump of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss.
Trump’s lawyers, who have characterized the case as an attack on his right to free speech, told the judge that the need to protect sensitive information about the case “does not require a blanket gag order over all documents produced by the government.”
“In a trial about First Amendment rights, the government seeks to restrict First Amendment rights,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “Worse, it does so against its administration’s primary political opponent, during an election season in which the administration, prominent party members, and media allies have campaigned on the indictment and proliferated its false allegations.”
The defense filing was in response to a request Friday from special counsel Jack Smith’s team for a protective order, which would impose rules on what Trump and his defense team can do with evidence handed over by the government as they prepare for trial in the case unsealed last week.
Prosecutors’ proposed protective order seeks to prevent Trump and his lawyers from disclosing materials provided by the government to anyone other than people on his legal team, possible witnesses, the witnesses’ lawyers or others approved by the court. It would put stricter limits on “sensitive materials,” which would include grand jury witness testimony and materials obtained through sealed search warrants. Under the government’s proposal, Trump could only be shown “sensitive” documents, not get copies himself.
Protective orders aren’t unusual in criminal cases, but prosecutors said it was especially important in this case because Trump routinely takes to social media to discuss the legal cases against him.
Prosecutors included a screenshot in their filing of a post from Trump’s Truth Social platform from on Friday in which Trump wrote, in all capital letters, “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!”
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case as well as another federal case brought by Smith that accuses Trump of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
A Trump spokesperson said the former president’s social media post “is the definition of political speech” and was made in response to “dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs.”
Prosecutors said that they are ready to hand over a substantial amount of evidence to Trump’s legal team and that much of it includes sensitive and confidential information. Such information could include witness testimony from the grand jury that investigated the case, and those grand jury proceedings are secret.
“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,” prosecutors wrote in their motion.
Trump pleaded not guilty last week to four felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and conspiracy to obstruct Congress’ certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory. The charges could lead to a lengthy prison sentence in the event of a conviction, with the most serious counts calling for up to 20 years.
It’s the third criminal case brought this year against the the early front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. But it’s the first case to try to hold him responsible for his efforts to remain in power during the chaotic weeks between his election loss and the attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Smith also charged Trump in June with dozens of felony counts alleging the former president illegally kept classified records after he left the White House and obstructed government efforts to get them back. A new indictment recently unsealed in that case accuses Trump of scheming with Mar-a-Lago staffers to try to delete security footage sought by investigators.
Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart imposed a similar protective order in June that prohibits Trump and his legal team from publicly disclosing evidence turned over to them by prosecutors without prior approval. Prosecutors are seeking another protective order in that case with more rules about the defense team’s handling of classified evidence.
Trump has characterized all the cases against him as an effort to take down his 2024 campaign. His legal team has indicated that it will argue that he had relied on the advice of attorneys around him in 2020 and that the latest case is an attack on his right to free speech and his right to challenge an election that he believed had been stolen.
Trump’s lawyers on Saturday asked for an extra three days to respond to prosecutors’ request for the protective order, saying they needed more time for discussion. But Judge Tanya Chutkan swiftly denied that request.
Source: Orange County Register