U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said Monday she will impose a limited gag order on former president Donald Trump in advance of his election interference trial, as requested by prosecutors.

The gag order, she said in a ruling issued from the bench after a hearing, will prohibit all parties from statements “publicly targeting” special counsel Jack Smith, his staff, her staff or “any other court personnel.” Statements about the families of those individuals are “absolutely prohibited as well.”

Even before the order was issued, Trump’s lawyer John Lauro said they would appeal any such order, as it would affect important free speech principles, particularly for a leading candidate for president.
Trump “can argue that this prosecution is politically motivated,” the judge said, but he cannot disparage the prosecutor by calling him a thug or “vilify and implicitly encourage violence against public servants who are simply doing their jobs.”

She is also barring Trump and all parties from making statements about witnesses in the case.

(Update- Judge Chutkan has stayed her gag order while Trump appeals it.  She has been very careful about how she treats Trump. She is doing this to make sure her rulings in his case are not overturned on appeal. Her gag order will be upheld on appeal.)

This is the second judge to slap a narrow gag order on Trump. The first judge, Judge Erdogan, is overseeing the civil case in New York that could result in the loss of Trump’s financial empire. The second judge, Judge Chutkan, is overseeing the criminal case brought by Jack Smith in which Trump is the only defendant and the case is about his attempt to overthrow the presidential election. It is the criminal case involving Trump that is the most likely to go to trial before the presidential election in 2024.

Trump has recently been mouthing off, mob boss style, attacking the prosecutor, the witnesses, the judge and others. This is part of his PR campaign to win the presidency back. It is a calculated ploy that could help him by scaring witnesses who might be called to testify against him. These verbal attacks also taint the jury pool.  Trump is calculating that no one will want to sit on a jury where you risk being targeted by his MAGA brown shirts.

Up until now Trump has gotten away with mouthing off about the prosecutor, judge and witnesses in this case by claiming he could do this because of his First Amendment right of free speech. It is not common for a defendant to attack the judge hearing their case because that judge is a human being and when people are verbally assaulted they don’t like it and judges have a lot of power over their courtrooms.  So most defendants in criminal cases try to make a positive impression on the judge who will have the power to rule in their favor or not and ultimately decide if they go to prison if they are found guilty as well as determine the length of the sentence. Trump is not the normal defendant. He is trying to maintain his image as a strong man who doesn’t follow anyone’s rules but his own. His best hope for evading prison is to regain the presidency. To win the presidency back he has to keep up his image as a strongman.  Trump is stuck in this role he made for himself.

Trump is also clearly trying to scare people who might become jurors or might be called as witnesses.  His social media posts have veiled, embedded threats in them.  Early on in the case before Judge Chutkan, Trump issued a post that was a clear threat. It prompted the prosecutors to ask the judge for a protective order.

Prosecutors sought the protective order after calling attention to another earlier post on Trump’s social media platform, in which he said he would be “coming after” those who “go after” him. 

That prompted the prosecutors to ask the judge for a protective order. Judge Chutkan warned Trump in the very first hearing.

Chutkan said that if anyone makes “inflammatory” statements about the case, she would be inclined to move more quickly to trial to prevent any intimidation of witnesses or contamination of the jury pool.

Judges watch what happens in other courtrooms with the same defendant. Judge Chutkan saw that Trump targeted one of Judge Erdogan’s clerks claiming that she was Chuck Schumer’s girlfriend. When people go to political events for candidates they like, they can often get a photo of themselves with the candidate. It’s likely that that is how Chuck Schumer ended up in a photo with Judge Erdogan’s clerk. (I don’t know this for certain, of course). But I mention this because Judge Chutkan took note of Trump’s social media attack on Erdogan’s clerk who appeared in a photo with Chuck Schumer and in her gag order specified that Trump was not to attack anyone who was just doing their job in the court system (like clerks).

There is precedent for gag orders like these, although they are rare. Paul Manafort and Roger Stone also got nailed with limited gag orders imposed on them by the judges in their criminal trials. But, like Trump, it was because of their social media posts attacking the judge and others connected to their trials. Those gag orders were upheld. Certainly there is a balancing of interests in this case. Trump is running for president and has a right to speak out about his opinions about the unfairness of the case or the problems with government or the idea that he is innocent. But there is no reason that Trump cannot run for office AND exercise his right of free speech WITHOUT vilifying the prosecutor or tainting the jury pool with these kinds of verbal attacks.

The gag order issued by Judge Chutkan is balanced and reasonable. Nonetheless, many commentators are wringing their hands over what Judge Chutkan will do if Trump violates her limited gag order. What would the consequences be?

If it were any other defendant we know what the consequences would be. Trump would be in jail by now.


 Judge Chutkan knows the best motivator to get Trump to behave himself.

Trump’s defense is delay delay delay (oh, and blame Biden for everything! including the war that Hamas started by attacking and brutalizing Israelis– really??!). Clearly the biggest threat to Trump would be to have the trial date moved up sooner.  Judge Chutkan understands this and she has the perfect rationale for issuing such an order. The trial needs to be held sooner to limit Trump’s ability to taint the jury pool and scare witnesses away from testifying.  Trump brought this on himself. It is the perfect response to Trump’s attacks.

And while we are at it, why not send Trump to prison for a day or two to help him understand that what he is doing is unacceptable behavior?  The fact that he has a Secret Service detail is no impediment to a few days in prison. Trump’s Secret Service detail could be stationed outside his cell.

Interestingly, Judge Erdogan might be the first judge to put Trump in jail for violating his gag order.

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial judge (Judge Erdogan) threatened Friday to hold the former president in contempt, raising the possibility of fining or even jailing him because a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer remained visible for weeks on his campaign website after the judge had ordered it deleted. (PBS). 

Then the judge fined Trump $5,000 because Trump’s lawyer, Chris Kise, convinced the judge that the violation of his order was an oversight, not intentional on Trump’s part, and he apologized. But the judge repeated his warning about the possibility of jail time for Trump if there is another violation whether or not it is intentional.

Trump has never experienced the kinds of consequences most people experience in life when they break the rules. He needs to be held to account. It is unfair that he breaks the laws and the norms and the rules that other Americans could not defy and gets away with it. How is that sustainable when our country is supposed to be a democracy where no man is above the law?