For second time in a month, judge orders Trump to shut his mouth
Greg Kearney / People's World

WASHINGTON—U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has issued a limited gag order against Donald Trump, barring the former Republican Oval Office occupant from publicly targeting—insulting and degrading are better words—U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, potential witnesses in Smith’s federal civil trial of Trump for trying to overthrow the Jan. 6, 2021, election results, Smith’s staff, and federal court staffers, too.

Chutkan’s gag order was the second in less than a month levied against the ex-White House denizen, following one on Oct. 3 by New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron in Trump’s fraud trial in Manhattan.

There, the judge limited Trump from “posting or publicly speaking about any member of the judge’s staff.” Trump had posted a picture on his site, Truth Social, showing Judge Engoron’s chief clerk with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and alleging she was Schumer’s “girlfriend.” Judge Engoron told Trump there would be sanctions for not complying with the gag order.

Trump has also called New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought that case, “a lunatic.”

Trump promptly said he would appeal Judge Chutkan’s order, decrying it as “unconstitutional” before a campaign crowd in Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucus next year. This from a candidate whose lawyers told a Colorado judge last year that as the White House occupant, Trump had “no duty to support the U.S. Constitution.”

While issuing the gag order, Judge Chutkan also set March 4—the day before “Super Tuesday” primaries next year—as the start of the actual trial.

Chutkan is handling the federal civil trial of Trump for his role in aiding, abetting, and ordering the Jan. 6, 2021, Trumpite U.S. Capitol invasion, insurrection, and attempted coup d’état, one of seven schemes Trump launched to keep himself in power after his 2020 presidential election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump has made invective against the judges, prosecutors, staffers, and potential witnesses in his trials in New York, D.C., and Georgia a staple campaign theme as he runs far ahead of other Republican hopefuls for next year’s nomination. Judge Chutkan used his treatment of one hopeful, his former Vice President, Mike Pence, as an example of what Trump could and could not do.

Trump could still criticize Pence, Chutkan said, but not for Pence’s refusal to falsely certify electoral votes for Trump on that Jan. 6, as the invasion occurred. That’s because Pence is expected to be a key witness against his former boss.

Judge Chutkan did not limit Trump’s rants about the FBI, Biden, the Justice Department, or his other foes in the presidential race. But the judge drew some more lines around Trump, who had signed a pre-trial statement promising not to defame jurors or intimidate witnesses.

“His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify and implicitly encourage violence against public servants who are simply doing their job,” Judge Chutkan warned.

But Trump’s been silent about the trial he faces in Florida, where U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon—a Trump appointee—will handle the case of his illegally purloined and leaked top secret papers, including a Pentagon plan to invade Iran and the number of warheads a U.S. nuclear submarine carries.

Typical Trump rants about the other trials came in a long tweet on his Truth Social platform on October 15, the day before Judge Chutkan ruled on Smith’s gag order. Trump repeatedly calls Smith “a thug,” castigates his staff, and complains he can’t get a fair trial in Judge Chutkan’s court because the jury would be drawn from the D.C. voter pool. D.C., which is majority people of color, gave only 5% of its vote to Trump in 2020.

“A Leaking, Crooked and Deranged Prosecutor, Jack Smith, who has a terrible record of failure, is asking a highly partisan Obama-appointed Judge, Tanya Chutkan, who should recuse herself based on the horrible things she has said, to silence me, through the use of a powerful GAG ORDER, making it impossible for me to criticize those who are doing the silencing, namely Crooked Joe Biden, and his corrupt and weaponized DOJ & FBI,” Trump’s Sunday night rant began.

“They want to take away my First Amendment rights, and my ability to both campaign and defend myself. In other words, they want to cheat and interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election. Nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before. It is strictly Banana Republic kind of ‘stuff.’

“These political Hacks and Thugs are destroying our Country. Let’s see what happens on Monday in Judge Chutkan’s courtroom. Will America survive, or not?” The odd capitalization within sentences is Trump’s.

“Mr. Trump can certainly claim he’s being unfairly prosecuted, but I cannot imagine any other criminal case in which the defendant is permitted to call the prosecutor ‘deranged,’ or a ‘thug.’ And I will not permit it here, simply because the defendant is running a political campaign,” Judge Chutkan replied in court the next day. “No other criminal defendant would be allowed to do so, and I’m not going to allow it in this case.”

In another rant, Trump suggested that now-retired Gen. Mark Milley, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should be tried and convicted of treason for failing to carry out Trump’s orders to overthrow the election.

Milley, like Pence, is expected to be a key witness when the actual trial begins.

“To write in all caps ‘DEATH,’ about someone who is a potential witness—doesn’t that go too far?” Judge Chutkan asked Trump’s lawyer Jack Lauro. “If you suggest that someone is deserving of execution, then it’s not a far stretch to imagine a situation when one of the millions of followers of this person decides to go ahead and do that.”

Lauro tried the same 1st Amendment argument in Judge Chutkan’s courtroom, contending the gag order would prevent his client from criticizing Biden. It would not, the judge replied.

“President Biden is not a witness in this case,” Judge Chutkan said. Biden has studiously shut up about the swirl of four trials and 91 civil and criminal counts swirling around Trump.

The Trump trial scene shifted back to New York on October 18 and Trump promised to be there, too. His accountant who aided and abetted the fraud, Allen Weisselberg, testified there last week. Weisselberg had pled guilty and turned state’s evidence, serving a jail term. His former lawyer-fixer, Michael Cohen, was scheduled to testify, but his appearance was postponed for a week.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.