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Judge places gag order on Trump in federal election case

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A judge in Washington has imposed a partial gag order on Donald Trump in the federal case accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 US presidential election.

Federal judge Tanya Chutkan on Monday granted part of a request made by the Department of Justice to limit statements by Trump targeting federal prosecutor Jack Smith, his staff, the judge’s own personnel, or other court employees. Statements targeting their families have also been prohibited.

“This is not about whether I like the language [Trump] uses. This is about language that presents a danger to the administration of justice,” Chutkan said.

The order from Chutkan includes the former president’s attorneys, who are also banned from making statements about potential witnesses or the contents of expected testimonies.

A Trump spokesperson said the decision was “an absolute abomination and another partisan knife stuck in the heart of our Democracy by Crooked Joe Biden”.

Trump, who faces four sets of criminal charges, has railed against the judiciary, calling Smith “deranged”, Chutkan a “fraud”, and the DoJ the “department of injustice”.

A gag order was placed on Trump earlier this month in a New York civil trial after he posted a photograph online of the judge’s clerk with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, claiming she was his girlfriend.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all cases — which include federal charges for retaining presidential documents as well as a Georgia case against him for election meddling — saying they are politically motivated. He has opened up a big lead over Republican rivals for the party’s 2024 presidential election nomination.

John Lauro, a lawyer representing Trump, argued ahead of the judge’s decision that a gag order would violate the ex-president’s First Amendment rights.

But Chutkan said there was a “mistaken understanding that the First Amendment is an absolute right”. “That is false,” she said, adding that the constitution’s free-speech protections “yield” to the administration of justice and the protection of witnesses.

While Lauro framed Trump’s statements as part of his election campaign, Chutkan said it did not give the ex-president “carte blanche to vilify . . . public servants simply doing their job”.

Federal prosecutor Molly Gaston argued that the order was necessary to “prevent the case from being tried in the court of public opinion”, adding that Trump was “using his campaign to try this case outside of this courtroom and to pollute the jury pool”.

Lauro said Trump would appeal against the gag order immediately, saying the measure was not necessary.

But the judge said: “We are in here today because of the statements that [Trump has] made” before and after the government filed a motion for a gag order, “right up to last night”. She added: “I’m not confident that without some kind of restriction we won’t be in here all the time.”

Trump said on Sunday in a social media post that “deranged” Smith had asked “a highly partisan Obama-appointed” judge “who should recuse herself” to “silence” him “through the use of a powerful GAG ORDER”. He added: “They want to take away my First Amendment rights, and my ability to both campaign and defend myself”.

Chutkan rejected part of the DoJ’s original request. She did not order a court review of potential surveys conducted with members of a jury pool, and did not impose additional restrictions on statements related to the District of Columbia, the jury pool, the Biden administration and the justice department.

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