Judge: Trump Has Limits on Free Speech as a Defendant

But Tanya Chutkan also rejects the government's request for a blanket restrictive order
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 12:28 PM CDT
Judge: Trump Has Limits on Free Speech as a Defendant
Former President Donald Trump walks to speak with reporters before boarding his plane at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Aug. 3 in Arlington, Virginia.   (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

In a Friday hearing to determine just how much Donald Trump can talk publicly about his legal troubles, neither side got everything it wanted. But the judge in Trump's election interference case made clear that the former president will have to be abide by restrictions, even if he is running for president. "The existence of a political campaign is not going to have any impact on my decision," said US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, per the Wall Street Journal. "I intend to keep politics out of this." Trump, she said, "has a First Amendment right to free speech, but that right is not absolute," per CNN. "In a criminal case such as this one, the defendant's free speech is subject to the rules."

"If that means he can't say exactly what he wants to say about witnesses in this case, then that's how it's going to be," Chutkan said. Still, the judge rejected the government's request for what the Washington Post describes as a "blanket protective order over information released in the case." Prosecutors fear Trump will reveal evidence in the case during a speech or on social media and wanted to bar him from speaking about the case entirely. They also accuse him of attempting to intimidate witnesses. On Friday, Chutkan took what the Hill calls a "middle path." Meaning, she "hashed out a deal that gives Trump more latitude to discuss evidence gathered in the Jan. 6 case while blocking the sharing of sensitive discovery such as [witnesses'] testimony gathered in the case."

She said she would be keeping a careful watch on Trump's public statements to make sure they don't cross the line. "I caution you and your client to take special care in your public statements about this case," Chutkan told Trump lawyer John Lauro. "I will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of these proceedings." And that includes speeding up the trial, per Politico.

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Lauro at one point complained that putting restrictions on Trump's speech would jeopardize his candidacy by limiting his ability to defend himself from a rival. "You are conflating what your client needs to do to defend himself and what he wants to do politically," she responded, per CNN. "And what your client does to defend himself has to happen in this courtroom, not on the internet." Lauro promised that his client would "scrupulously abide by his conditions of release." The judge will issue a written summation of her guidelines soon. (More Donald Trump stories.)

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