In a significant victory for former President Trump on Friday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan largely sided with his defense attorneys’ objection to a protective order preventing Trump from publicly discussing evidence in the 2020 election case.
The prosecution's request to cover all the discovery materials under a protective order lacked persuasiveness and failed to demonstrate the necessary cause, the judge ruled.
But, while Judge Chutkan acknowledged that the defendant has the right to free speech, she emphasized that this right is not absolute and that without a protective order, sensitive information could be improperly disseminated, potentially affecting the integrity of the trial.
Prosecutors had raised concerns about Trump sharing sensitive information online, warning of a potentially harmful chilling effect on witnesses. They accused the former president of wanting to use government evidence to try the case in the media, rather than the courtroom.
In a mixed decision, Judge Chutkan ruled that only information designated as "sensitive" should be protected. However, she also agreed with the government's argument that every person interviewed by prosecutors is a potential witness and their testimony should be considered sensitive.
A Trump spokesperson has said that the former president’s social media posts on the Truth Social platform are intended as political speech, not an attempt to improperly share sensitive information.
Despite being the 2024 GOP front-runner, Trump faces charges, related to the 2020 presidential election, of conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.
Judge Tanya Chutkan is considered to be the "toughest punisher" in Jan. 6 riot cases, which has raised doubts about her objectivity in overseeing Trump's case.
Trump's defense attorneys argued that granting the government's request for broad rules would infringe on the former president's First Amendment rights. They highlighted the extraordinary nature of the case, with the defendant running for president while the Department of Justice of his opponent, incumbent President Joe Biden, brings charges against him. They also noted that the government's request would limit Trump's ability to respond to political attacks on the campaign trail.
Another of the key compromises issued in the ruling concerns whether to require the presence of a defense counsel while Trump reviews sensitive materials. The judge ruled that this would place an undue burden on the defense.
But, while Chutkan allowed Trump to review the materials without a defense attorney present, she prohibited the use of devices that could copy or take pictures of the materials, ensuring that any review remains confidential and secure.
Moving forward, the next hearing is scheduled for August 28, during which Judge Chutkan is expected to set a trial date.
Special counsel Jack Smith has proposed a swift trial, pushing for a date of January 2, in a move ostensibly designed to disrupt Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign. The Republican presidential race begins with Iowa's caucuses scheduled for January 15.
In order prevent the election interference, Trump’s attorneys are seeking to delay the trial, ideally until after the November 2024 presidential election.
Judge Chutkan responded unsympathetically, saying that political considerations, such as the timing of presidential debates and campaigns, will not influence her rulings