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Judge sets limits on evidence sharing in case

BusinessJudge sets limits on evidence sharing in case

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Courtroom sketch depicting Judge Tanya Chutkan in an exchange with Donald Trump’s lawyers. 

The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump‘s election interference case hammered out the details of a protective order at the center of a dispute between the former president’s attorneys and special counsel Jack Smith’s prosecutors.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in a Friday morning hearing in Washington, D.C., sided with Trump’s lawyers, who challenged the government’s request for a broader ban on the disclosure of evidence and other materials it had gathered in the case.

But she gave the Department of Justice the opportunity to deem which materials are “sensitive” enough to be covered by the protective order.

The five-page protective order dictates that Trump and his team cannot disclose sensitive materials to anyone who is not involved in their legal defense or otherwise authorized by the court. Potential witnesses and their counsel can also be shown the sensitive materials.

The materials that can potentially be deemed “sensitive” by the DOJ include witness testimony, grand jury subpoena returns, records obtained through sealed search warrants and records with personally identifying information.

Those materials, and any copies, must be destroyed after the case concludes, the order states.

During the hearing, Chutkan brushed aside a defense attorney’s concerns that the protective order could hamper Trump’s political speech as he seeks the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“The existence of a political campaign is not going to have any bearing on my decision,” Chutkan said, NBC News reported.

The judge also told Trump and his team to avoid making any public statements that could have an impact on the integrity of the case. She warned that the more a party makes public statements that could influence potential jurors, the faster the case will head to trial.

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“Even arguably ambiguous statements by the parties or their counsel, if they could be reasonably interpreted to intimidate witnesses or to prejudice potential jurors, can threaten the process,” she said.

The DOJ had previously flagged Trump’s highly active and bombastic social media presence in its argument for the broader order. Trump has asserted at minimum the trial should be postponed until after the 2024 election.

Trump faces four counts related to his efforts to overturn his loss to President Joe Biden in the 2020 election. He pleaded not guilty last week in federal court in Washington, D.C.

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Prosecutor Thomas Windom argued in Friday’s hearing that barring the former president from disclosing any and all discovery in the case was necessary for witness safety and ensuring a fair trial. He warned that Trump’s request for a narrower protective order is merely part of an effort to “try this case in the media” rather than in the courtroom.

Trump’s lawyers have accused prosecutors of seeking to censor a leading presidential candidate’s political speech. They have asked the court for an order that only forbids public disclosure of “genuinely sensitive materials.”

Defense attorney John Lauro called the breadth of the DOJ’s order “extraordinary.” The charges against Trump, a potential rival to Biden in the 2024 general election, under the auspices of the current administration puts the case in “uncharted waters,” Lauro said.

Chutkan noted that she has to weigh Trump’s First Amendment rights with the needs of the trial.

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“If that means that he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about people who may be witnesses in this case, that’s how it’s going to have to be,” Chutkan told Lauro.

The proceeding in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., gave prosecutors and defense attorneys their first opportunity to argue before Chutkan, whom Trump has already attacked on social media.

Attorneys for former U.S. President Donald Trump Todd Blanche (R) and John Lauro (L) arrive at the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Court House August 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. Blanche and Lauro attended the first hearing held by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on a protective order related to disclosure of government evidence in the case against Trump. 

Win Mcnamee | Getty Images

Chutkan is an Obama appointee who has become known for her tough posture in other cases involving crimes related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Trump, in a series of recent posts on Truth Social, has accused Chutkan of conflicts of interest and said there is “no way” he can get a fair trial with her as the judge.

He has suggested his case should be handed off to a different judge and moved out of Democrat-leaning district to a different venue, such as West Virginia.

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