WASHINGTON — A federal judge heard arguments on Monday about whether former President Donald Trump should be subject to a limited gag order ahead of his March 2024 federal election interference trial.
Special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the federal election interference case against Trump in August, is seeking a narrow gag order against Trump to “protect the integrity of the trial and the jury pool.” Trump’s team, absent evidence, has argued that the Biden administration is trying to silence the former president’s speech during the 2024 presidential campaign.
Prosecutors and Trump’s defense attorney appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan at a hearing in Washington, D.C. on Monday morning. Trump was not present at the hearing.
Chutkan laughed after Trump’s lawyer John Lauro argued that the current conditions are working, saying she disagreed before she went through some of Trump’s statements one by one. Chutakn said Trump “doesn’t” have unfettered First Amendment rights, and that there’s “no question” that the court is entitled to draw restrictions to ensure the fair administration of justice.
Chutkan said she had concerns about the breadth of the proposed order presented by Smith’s office. But Molly Gaston of the special counsel’s office said Trump “can criticize President Biden to his heart’s content” because Biden had nothing to do with the case.
Trump posted on his Truth Social platform during the hearing, saying, “The TRUMP GAG ORDER that the CORRUPT Biden Administration is trying to obtain is totally Unconstitutional!”
Trump, prosecutors said in a filing ahead of the hearing, wants “special treatment, asserting that because he is a political candidate, he should have free rein to publicly intimidate witnesses and malign the Court, citizens of this District, and prosecutors.” But in this case, they wrote, Trump should be treated like any criminal defendant.
Trump’s team has argued that the proposed gag order is politically motivated.
“At bottom, the Proposed Gag Order is nothing more than an obvious attempt by the Biden Administration to unlawfully silence its most prominent political opponent, who has now taken a commanding lead in the polls,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in a brief filed last month.
Trump’s team sought to delay the trial until 2026, and Smith’s team wanted jury selection in the case to begin this year, but Chutkan set a trial date for March 4, 2024, the day before “Super Tuesday,” when primary voters in several states cast their ballots.
Chutkan, who has received threats in connection with her oversight of the case, previously warned Trump about talking about the case in a way that could cause witness intimidation or impact the proceedings.
“Mr. Trump, like every American, has a First Amendment right to free speech,” Chutkan said. ‘But that right is not absolute.”
Trump, Chutkan said at an August hearing, “is a criminal defendant,” and would “have restrictions like every other defendant.” Trump’s defense, she said, “is supposed to happen in this courtroom, not on the internet. And to the extent your client wants to make statements on the internet, they always have to yield to witness security and witness safety.”
In a separate civil trial in New York, a judge ordered Trump to delete a disparaging post about a member of the judge’s staff.
“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I won’t tolerate it,” said Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the New York attorney general’s fraud lawsuit against Trump, his company, and his two adult sons. “Consider this a gag order on all parties with respect to posting or publicly speaking about any member of my staff.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com