May 26, 2024

The federal judge overseeing the 2020 election conspiracy case against Donald Trump said the former president’s First Amendment right “is not absolute” as she crafted a ruling on prosecutors’ request to bar him from talking about some aspects of the case.

At the conclusion of a two-hour hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said her order won’t give prosecutors everything they sought to clamp down on Mr. Trump’s public comments before trial.

But the judge said she will restrict Mr. Trump in some ways: for example, limiting his access to evidence deemed “sensitive.”

The judge said Mr. Trump‘s status as a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination doesn’t affect her decision.

“The fact that he is running a political campaign currently has to yield to the administration of justice, and if that means he can’t say exactly what he wants to say in a political speech, that is just how it’s going to have to be,” the judge said. “I cannot, and I will not, factor into my decision what effect it will have on a political campaign for either side.”

The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 28, when Judge Chutkan, an Obama appointee, is expected to set a trial date.

The protective order sought by special counsel Jack Smith has become an early flashpoint in the case accusing Mr. Trump of illegally scheming to subvert the will of voters and cling to power after he lost to Democrat Joseph R. Biden in November 2020.

The former president’s lawyers said the request by Mr. Smith to bar Mr. Trump from talking about the case was too broad and would violate Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights. Trump lawyer John Lauro said the government’s “goal” was to “interfere with the campaign.”

“I’m not going to accept that,” the judge replied. “I haven’t seen any evidence that it’s politically motivated.’”

She said Mr. Trump won’t be allowed to have any electronic devices “that could copy or reproduce” trial documents if he reviews such items alone. She also rejected a proposal by Mr. Trump’s team to share any witness interviews or transcripts with the public.

“I’m finding it very difficult to envision a former president engaged in a political campaign talking about witnesses who may not have the kind of protections that he has. I could see the possibility for a lot of problems here,” the judge said. “But I can see how in advance of trial making public statements about potential witnesses is going to, in and of itself, affect the orderly administration of justice and could run afoul of his release conditions.”

She told Mr. Trump’s legal team, “Your client’s defense 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.”

Prosecutors plan to turn over 11.6 million pages of documents initially to Mr. Trump’s legal team. Prosecutor Thomas Windom said other pre-trial material will be turned over in the coming weeks, with most of the documents to be delivered to the defense prior to Aug. 28.

The judge cautioned both sides to prevent a “carnival” atmosphere in the case before a trial is held.

“The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case … the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly,” she said.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.