Trump Keeps Attacking Judges. He Might Finally Face the Consequences

The former president was hit with another gag order.

Trump

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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A federal judge in Washington, DC, slapped Donald Trump with a limited gag order Monday—Trump’s second in the last month. Judge Tanya S. Chutkan barred the former president from denigrating court employees, prosecutors, or witnesses in the criminal case stemming from Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The order came after a lengthy hearing in which Chutkan sparred with Trump’s attorneys over what sorts of statements would and would not be appropriate for Trump, who is running for president, to utter. Several times, Trump’s attorneys attempted to get the trial delayed or argued that the case was based on political bias. Chutkan quickly shot down those arguments.

“Politics stops at this courtroom,” Chutkan told Trump attorney John Lauro, warning him to refrain from campaign-style rhetoric during the hearing. Clearly spoiling for a fight on the issue, Lauro asked if he was being “censored.”

Chutkan at one point told Lauro that she suspected his arguments weren’t really intended to win her over. “Obviously you have an audience other than me in mind,” she told him, alluding to the political nature of his arguments and how closely they mirrored Trump’s own commentary. 

Lauro argued throughout the hearing that Trump had First Amendment rights that allowed him, like any other citizen, to say what he pleased. Moreover, Lauro contended, Trump also has a political campaign to run, and he needs to be able to criticize his opponents. At least one of those opponents—former Vice President Mike Pence—is a potential witness in the case. But, Chutkan told Lauro, Trump was not like any other citizen; he was charged with felonies and is free prior to his trial under supervision from the court.

The precise contours of the gag order won’t be known until Chutkan issues a written order. But based on the judge’s comments during the hearing, she will apparently allow Trump to continue to attack President Joe Biden, the people of Washington, DC, (who would make up the jury pool), and even Chutkan herself. He can also continue to say that the prosecution is politically motivated. But, Chutkan ruled, Trump must refrain from attacking court staff, witnesses, special counsel Jack Smith or his family, or the prosecutors personally. Chutkan included a carve-out allowing Trump to attack Pence but barring Trump from saying anything specifically about Pence’s role in the case.

“Mr. Trump can certainly claim he’s being unfairly prosecuted, but I cannot imagine any other case where a defendant is allowed to call the prosecution ‘deranged,’ a ‘thug’ or anything else,” Chutkan said from the bench, explaining her ruling.

Much of the hearing was taken up by back-and-forths over which types of statements should be off-limits. Throughout, Lauro insisted that nothing Trump has said would constitute a threat to anyone. But the threat of violence has hung over this case and others. In August, a Texas woman was arrested for calling Chutkan’s office and leaving a voicemail allegedly saying that she would kill anyone who “went after Trump.”

“You are in our sights, we want to kill you,” the woman allegedly said. “Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly, b**** … You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.”

While Lauro claimed there was nothing wrong with the current lack of restrictions—which elicited a laugh from Chutkan—Trump has been angrily writing and talking about the case. As late as Sunday evening, Trump attacked Chutkan as “a highly partisan Obama appointed Judge…who should recuse herself based on the horrible things she has said, to silence me”. And in the same Truth Social post, Trump, once again, called special prosecutor Jack Smith “leaking, crooked and deranged.” He has made similar comments in the past about Smith and even attacked Smith’s wife, filmmaker Katy Chevigny, as a “Trump hater.”

After the gag order was issued, Trump’s office released a statement in which he seemed to already be testing the limits of Chutkan’s ruling, describing it as a “another partisan knife stuck in the heart of our democracy” by Biden. He also took to Truth Social to call the case a “witch hunt.”

Arthur Engoron, a New York state judge, issued a similarly narrow gag order against Trump late last month, requiring him to refrain from attacking court staff working on the $250 million civil fraud lawsuit filed against Trump by New York Attorney General Letitia James. That order came after Trump posted a link to the private Instagram account of the judge’s clerk and falsely suggested she was romantically involved with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

Earlier this year, during a separate civil lawsuit in federal court in New York, a judge warned Trump numerous times to stop attacking the plaintiff—writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of sexually assaulting her. That judge, Lewis Kaplan, ordered Trump to stop publicly saying things about the case that weren’t true and to cease publicly discussing topics that the judge had ruled were off-limits for the jury to hear about. At one point, Kaplan warned Trump’s attorneys that the former president might face contempt charges if he didn’t start abiding by judicial orders. At the time it appeared to work, although almost immediately after losing the case, Trump went on the attack again against Carroll.

As far back as 2016, when he faced a pair of lawsuits over Trump University, a real estate training program that the plaintiffs said was a fraud, Trump attacked the judge in the case, who had Mexican heritage, as a “hater.” Trump suggested that Judge Gonzalo Curiel was biased because of Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the border with Mexico. The comments caused outrage at the time, and Trump attempted to walk some of them back, issuing a statement in which he said his words had been “misconstrued.”

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