Prosecutors in the federal election obstruction case against Donald Trump asked the judge to take extra steps to protect jurors’ identities, arguing the former president uses social media as a “weapon of intimidation.”
(Bloomberg) — Prosecutors in the federal election obstruction case against Donald Trump asked the judge to take extra steps to protect jurors’ identities, arguing the former president uses social media as a “weapon of intimidation.”
Noting that a judge in a New York state case last week imposed a gag order after Trump disparaged his law clerk online, the government on Tuesday asked for “limited” restrictions on how both sides can research and use information about prospective jurors in the Washington case. They also requested that the court “strictly enforce” existing rules that shield jurors’ personal information.
“Given that the defendant — after apparently reviewing opposition research on court staff — chose to use social media to publicly attack a court staffer, there is cause for concern about what he may do with social media research on potential jurors in this case,” the prosecutors wrote.
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A spokesperson for Trump didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the filing. The US wrote in its brief that the defense opposed the motion.
The government’s request reflects growing concerns by prosecutors and judges that Trump’s running commentary and public attacks on the criminal and civil cases against him could interfere with court proceedings or even pose security risks to jurors, witnesses, lawyers, judges and others.
In the Washington criminal case, the government wants US District Judge Tanya Chutkan to have prospective jurors fill out a written questionnaire several weeks before the trial starts. It’s a system that courts across the country have used before, especially in high-profile cases, since it lets lawyers screen out certain jurors early before in-person selection starts.
Trump’s online vitriol is already an issue in the case. Chutkan is set to hear arguments on Oct. 16 on the government’s request for limits on what Trump can say publicly about the case.
Prosecutors asked Chutkan to bar research beyond what’s publicly available about potential jurors, particularly any steps to access private social media accounts or otherwise make contact. They asked the judge to prohibit using juror research for any purpose besides the selection process and to give a special instruction that both sides handle juror information “with care.”
Special Counsel John “Jack” Smith’s office also suggested the court consider taking special protective measures such as having jurors avoid public entrances. Besides Trump’s “recent concerning conduct,” prosecutors noted reports of threats by his supporters against Chutkan and grand jurors who voted to indict Trump on state charges in Georgia.
Trump, 77, is charged with conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, including by urging state officials to intervene, organizing slates of so-called alternate electors and pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to block Congress’s certification of the results. The case is one of four prosecutions, on top of two civil trials, he faces as he runs to regain the White House.
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The trial is set to begin March 4. Smith’s office said it wasn’t asking for more extreme measures — such as keeping juror identities completely anonymous or sequestering the jury — “at this time,” but left open the possibility.
In the New York case, Trump is on trial on civil fraud allegations. State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron in Manhattan entered an order on Oct. 3 barring Trump and any other parties from posting online about his staff, after Trump shared a since-deleted message on his social media account about the judge’s law clerk, along with her photo.
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Also on Tuesday, prosecutors asked Chutkan to order Trump to disclose by Dec. 18 whether he plans to argue he was relying on the advice of lawyers as a defense. Smith’s office said that if Trump wanted to raise an advice-of-counsel defense, he would waive certain attorney-client privileges, potentially freeing the government to get access to more evidence.
Trump is opposing that motion as well, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, during the investigation at least 25 witnesses withheld information based on attorney-client privilege concerns related to Trump or his 2020 campaign.
The case is US v. Trump, 23-cr-00257, US District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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