On Thursday, Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to federal criminal charges that he orchestrated a conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss. During the arraignment, Trump agreed he would not try to influence or intimidate witnesses or do anything else that might obstruct justice in the case.
But then on Friday, he posted a threatening message on his social media platform, Truth Social: “If you go after me, I’m coming after you!” Trump wrote in all-caps. Minutes later, Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign posted a one-minute video that names and shows the images of four prosecutors who are pursuing legal cases against him, describing them as the “fraud squad.”
Prosecutors soon responded, using his social media habits—and specifically his recent Truth post—as ammo. In a filing from late Friday lodged in a DC federal court, the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith (one of the prosecutors named in the ad) asked US District Judge Tanya Chutkan to impose a protective order prohibiting Trump and his lawyers from sharing evidence in the case with unauthorized people.
While Smith’s team did not explicitly argue Trump’s post constituted a threat, they included an image of it it as evidence of his tendency to post about “witnesses, judges, attorneys, and others associated with legal matters pending against him,” saying it raised the prospect that he might improperly post information or documents shared with his legal team ahead of the trial.
If he did so, it “could have a harmful chilling effect on witnesses or adversely affect the fair administration of justice in this case,” prosecutors warned.
Protective orders are not uncommon in cases involving confidential documents, as Reuters reports, but prosecutors argued one would be “particularly important in this case” because of Trump’s posting habits.
Beyond the January 6 charges set to be litigated in Washington, Trump is facing multiple cases elsewhere across the country. He has been accused in a Miami-based federal court of keeping classified documents after leaving the White House, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments he made to a porn star. He is expected to face prosecution in Georgia related to his efforts to overturn that state’s 2020 election result. Trump has denied all the allegations, and described the cases as a political witch hunt aimed at harming his 2024 presidential campaign.
After prosecutors requested the protective order, Trump’s campaign put out a statement defending the Truth Social post as “the definition of political speech” shielded by the First Amendment. The unsigned message suggested his words had nothing to do with the trial, but instead targeted “dishonest special interest groups and Super PACs, like the ones funded by the Koch brothers and the Club for No Growth.”
In an interview with CNN, Stephanie Grisham, a former Trump White House press secretary who has turned against her onetime boss, criticized the Truth post. “I think it’s chilling,” she said. “Legally it doesn’t seem like it’s very smart, but how is that not intimidation?” She expressed concern about how Trump’s supporters might perceive the post, noting that his false claims about election fraud led to the violent attack by a pro-Trump mob at the Capitol. “Does somebody have to get hurt before people take this kind of online intimidation seriously?” she asked.
Judge Chutkan has not yet issued a decision about the protective order. But if she agrees with the prosecutors’ request, it would not be the first time Trump has been reprimanded in court for his social media posts and public comments. In April, after Trump said that “death and destruction” could follow if he were charged in Manhattan, the judge overseeing that case warned him not to make comments that could “incite violence or civil unrest.”
His posts this week suggest he wasn’t really listening.