Federal prosecutors press Trump gag order request as judge sets hearing for arguments

Former President Donald Trump speaks in Clinton Township, Mich., Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023....
Published: Sep. 29, 2023 at 8:34 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors pressed their case Friday for a limited gag order on former President Donald Trump, citing what they said was a continuing pattern of incendiary and intimidating statements in the case charging him with scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team earlier this month requested an order aimed at reining in Trump’s attacks on prosecutors, potential witnesses and other people involved in the case. Trump’s lawyers have objected to the request, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Friday set courtroom arguments for Oct. 16.

In a motion Friday evening, prosecutors reiterated the need for an order on Trump’s behavior.

They said his attacks have continued since the initial Sept. 15 request, citing critical comments in a television interview about witnesses referenced in the indictment — including former Attorney General William Barr — as well as a social media post from last week in which he suggested that Mark Milley, the retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had committed treason and should be executed.

In addition, prosecutors noted an episode in South Carolina earlier this week in which he admired a Glock handgun during a visit to a gun store. Though a Trump spokesman initially claimed on social media that Trump had purchased the weapon, he later deleted the post and clarified that Trump had only indicated that he wanted to buy one.

Despite that retraction, prosecutors wrote, Trump “re-posted a video of the incident” posted by one of his followers with a caption that suggested he had indeed bought the weapon.

It was an example, they said, of Trump trying to benefit from incendiary actions but then avoid accountability by having others around him “feign retraction.”

“The defendant either purchased a gun in violation of the law and his conditions of release, or seeks to benefit from his supporters’ mistaken belief that he did so,” prosecutors said.

Trump’s lawyers earlier this week denounced the gag order request as an attempt to “unconstitutionally silence” his political speech. They called the request a “desperate attempt at censorship.”

Prosecutors rejected that characterization in their Friday night motion.

“All it would limit is the defendant’s use of his candidacy as a cover for making prejudicial public statements about this case — and there is no legitimate need for the defendant, in the course of his campaign, to attack known witnesses regarding the substance of their anticipated testimony or otherwise engage in materially prejudicial commentary in violation of the proposed order,” they wrote.

The case is currently set for trial March 4, 2024, in federal court in Washington.

Chutkan ruled against the Trump team on Wednesday when she refused a defense request to step aside from the case over comments she’d made in other sentencing hearings that the attorneys said called into question her impartiality. Chutkan said there was no reason for her to recuse.