Donald Trump’s lawyers and US prosecutors hurled accusations back and forth over the protection of evidence just days after his arraignment on federal charges of obstructing the 2020 election — a sign both sides are digging in for a bitter courtroom fight.
(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s lawyers and US prosecutors hurled accusations back and forth over the protection of evidence just days after his arraignment on federal charges of obstructing the 2020 election — a sign both sides are digging in for a bitter courtroom fight.
Trump’s attorneys across his criminal prosecutions in New York, Florida, and Washington are adopting their client’s brawler style, in and out of court. In TV hits they’ve accused prosecutors of misconduct and echoed the former president’s claims of a political witch hunt. Their tone in court briefs is a bit more subdued, but still aggressive.
Prosecutors on Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith’s team haven’t been shy about throwing punches either, accusing the former president’s lawyer John Lauro — who made five appearances on network TV news shows Sunday — of trying the case in the public and not in court.
The latest fracas is over what steps the federal judge in Washington overseeing the election interference case should take to ensure evidence isn’t shared with the public until the appropriate time.
Prosecutors must provide a defendant with copies of evidence they’ve gathered in the investigation and materials they plan to use at trial. While the court’s issuance of what’s known as a protective order, typically used to shield sensitive information including grand jury testimony, isn’t usually a controversial phase in a criminal case, it became a source of tension less than a week after a grand jury indicted Trump on Aug. 1.
Read More: Trump Indicted on Federal Charges in 2020 Election Probe
Trump’s lawyers on Monday claimed the restrictions sought by Smith’s team on the handling of evidence are “overbroad” and would censor the former president’s First Amendment free-speech rights as he runs for reelection. His lawyers also asked for a hearing and more time to submit their proposed revisions.
“The government has made no showing that statements by President Trump regarding nonsensitive documents would affect the outcome of the trial in any way, let alone cause a ‘malfunction’ of the type necessary to abridge the First Amendment,” Lauro and another of Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche, argued.
The former president’s team also alleged that President Joe Biden was capitalizing on the latest indictment and cited news reports that the Biden campaign had posted a video of the president drinking coffee from a mug featuring a photo of him with laser eyes, a reference for the meme known as “Dark Brandon.” They included a picture of the video in their brief, appearing to try to match prosecutors’ decision to screenshot a recent Trump post on his Truth Social platform in their court filing.
Trying Case in Media
On Monday night, prosecutors replied that Trump’s “stated goal” to have more freedom to share information about evidence “has the potential to unnecessarily inflame public opinion short of all relevant facts, intimidate witnesses, pollute the jury pool, and in general degrade the integrity of proceedings in this court.”
“The government proposed a reasonable protective order consistent with current practice in this district,” Smith’s office wrote. “The defendant instead proposed an order designed to allow him to try this case in the media rather than in the courtroom.”
The dispute started on Aug. 4, when prosecutors filed a notice with US District Judge Tanya Chutkan that once the judge signed off on a protective order, they were prepared to “immediately” turn over a “substantial amount” of evidence — including “sensitive and confidential material” — to Trump’s lawyers.
They argued that an order preventing the “improper dissemination” of evidence was important because of Trump’s history of posting on social media about his legal entanglements and the “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others” involved.
As an example, they included a screenshot of Trump’s Truth Social post that day that read: “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”
Read More: Prosecutors Alert Judge to Trump’s ‘Coming After You!’ Post
“If the defendant were to begin issuing public posts using details — or, for example, grand jury transcripts — obtained in discovery here, it could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case,” prosecutors wrote.
Trump’s lawyers responded by accusing the government of rushing and failing to give them time to negotiate what language the judge should adopt for a protective order.
Prosecutors countered that it was imperative that a protective order be imposed in a timely fashion and said Trump’s lawyers were seeking “unnecessary delay to normal order.”
“The government stands ready to press send on a discovery production,” prosecutors wrote in an Aug. 5 filing. “The defendant is standing in the way.”
Chutkan rebuffed Trump’s request for additional time to file a full response and counter-proposal.
Trump’s lawyers asked for a hearing at the earliest convenient day for the judge, while Smith’s office said it isn’t necessary.
The judge agreed to hold a hearing on, or before, Aug. 11. Trump doesn’t have to appear at the hearing, Chutkan said.
(Updates with judge’s order in final paragraph)
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