A federal judge barred Donald Trump from attacking witnesses, prosecutors and court staff involved in his Washington, D.C., criminal case, imposing a gag order that escalates the tension between Trump’s 2024 bid for the presidency and his status as a criminal defendant. “First Amendment protections yield to the administration of justice and to the protection of witnesses,” Judge Tanya Chutkan said Monday, reports Politico. “His presidential candidacy does not give him carte blanche to vilify … public servants who are simply doing their job.” It’s one of the first tangible consequences of Trump's multiple brushes with the criminal justice system, in this case on four felony charges related to his effort to subvert the 2020 election. Chutkan has scheduled Trump’s trial to begin on March 4 and said Monday that the date would not change. “This trial will not yield to the election cycle and we will not revisit the trial date,” Chutkan said.
Complying with Chutkan’s order will require a significant shift in Trump’s public demeanor. He uses his social media megaphone and rally speeches to assail his lead federal prosecutor, special counsel Jack Smith, as “deranged.” Trump brands the lawyers working under Smith as “thugs.” Those comments, Chutkan said, risk poisoning the proceedings. Trump has pointedly attacked several known witnesses. He suggested that one of them, retired Gen. Mark Milley, would have warranted the death penalty in another era, and he repeatedly blasted former Attorney General Bill Barr. Acknowledging Trump’s ight to weigh in on public policy issues as he pursues a second term in the White House, Chutkan said he could not launch a “pretrial smear campaign” against those who might testify against him. She said she would consider “sanctions” if she observes any violations. The order raises the prospect that Trump could face punishment — ranging from restrictions on his use of social media to potential pretrial incarceration — if he continues to mount public attacks on Smith and his team or witnesses likely to testify in his March trial. Trump is appealing Chutkan's order.