Prosecutors reassert need for gag order on Trump in elections case

Federal prosecutors on Friday reasserted the need to impose a gag order on former President Donald Trump in the case accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

They said that even after they first asked a judge three weeks ago to limit his remarks, Trump has continued to wage “a sustained campaign of prejudicial public statements” against witnesses, prosecutors and others.

Prosecutors cited several threatening statements that Trump made since they initially asked Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the election interference case in U.S. District Court in Washington, to impose the gag order. Their request was first filed under seal Sept. 5 and a public version was released 10 days later. Chutkan has yet to rule on the matter.

Since their request, prosecutors said in their filing Friday night, Trump has continued to attack potential witnesses in the case like former Vice President Mike Pence — who, Trump wrote online, had lied about him and had gone to the “Dark Side.”

The filing noted that Trump had lashed out at another witness in the case, “the former attorney general” — an apparent reference to William Barr — saying he had not done his job after the election “because he was afraid of being impeached.”

Moreover, prosecutors cited a menacing message that Trump posted on his social media site last week about Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After Milley gave several interviews that were critical of Trump, the former president suggested that he had committed treason and that in the past he might have faced execution.

“No other criminal defendant would be permitted to issue public statements insinuating that a known witness in his case should be executed,” Molly Gaston, one of the prosecutors, wrote. “This defendant should not be, either.”

As the prosecutions of Trump have accelerated — he is facing three other criminal indictments beyond the case in Washington — so too have threats against law enforcement authorities, judges, elected officials and others. The threats have prompted protective measures, including increased security for many people involved in the cases against him.

In their filing, the prosecutors, who work for special counsel Jack Smith, pressed another issue, saying Trump may have violated the terms of his release in the election interference case by suggesting that he might have purchased a firearm Monday during a campaign stop at a gun store in Summerville, South Carolina.

That day, prosecutors noted, Trump’s spokesperson posted a video online of the former president handling a Glock pistol at the store. The spokesperson said in the post that Trump had purchased it, but aides quickly denied that he had actually done so.

In the government’s filing, Gaston said Trump had “either purchased a gun in violation of the law and his conditions of release or seeks to benefit from his supporters’ mistaken belief that he did so.”

On Tuesday, Trump’s lawyers offered an outraged response to the government’s initial request for a gag order, saying the attempt to “muzzle” him during his presidential campaign violated his free speech rights.

But Gaston, in her filing, claimed that Trump was trying to make a special case for himself because he was running for president.

“He demands special treatment, asserting that because he is a political candidate, he should have free rein to publicly intimidate witnesses and malign the court, citizens of this district, and prosecutors,” she wrote. “But in this case, Donald J. Trump is a criminal defendant like any other.”

The competing claims about whether or not to impose a gag order will come to a head in Washington on Oct. 16. That is when Chutkan has ordered the defense and prosecution to appear in her courtroom for oral arguments.

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