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Judge Chutkan Will Not Tolerate More Crimes
This federal district judge is determined to maintain "normal order" and treat Donald Trump like any other criminal defendant
This promises to be quite a week in America. We are likely to see a Georgia indictment from Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis following the meeting of the grand jury there tomorrow. And news broke yesterday on CNN that Atlanta-area prosecutors possess text messages and emails linking members of the Trump legal team with the breach of voting machines in Coffee County, Georgia, in early January 2021. This increases the probability of felony charges involving multiple defendants—possibly more than a dozen—who were engaged in conspiracy, including Donald Trump.
But I want to pause before the fast-breaking news propels us onward. In an encouraging hearing in federal district court on Friday, Washington, D.C.’s no-nonsense Judge Tanya S. Chutkan implemented a protective order to restrict what discovery materials Trump can make public. Refreshingly, that’s not all.
While Trump-appointed Florida Judge Aileen Cannon is once again finding ways to provide special favors for the ex-president in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case, Judge Chutkan made clear Friday she won’t stand for Trump’s usual and dangerous flood of nonsense, lies and attacks. Chutkan laid out an intriguing plan to raise the stakes for the indicted one’s typical refusal to follow the law.
Noting that it will not be easy to avoid a “carnival atmosphere,” she focused in on defendant Trump’s public statements and said she would be scrutinizing “very carefully” what he says for signs that could be viewed as witness intimidation, tainting a jury pool or obstruction of justice.
“The fact that he is running a political campaign currently has to yield to the administration of justice,” Chutkan said. “And if that means he can't say exactly what he wants to say in a political speech, that is just how it's going to have to be.”
And how might she respond to “inflammatory” comments about the case? The more it happens, “the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly.” And more, she warned, “even ambiguous statements from either party or counsel...can threaten the process.”
This, of course, is the last thing that Trump, always focused on delaying legal proceedings, wants. But that doesn’t mean he’s capable of keeping his mouth shut, literally or figuratively.
As Chutkan noted Friday, “The defense has reiterated at length Mr. Trump's First Amendment right to speak about this case and any evidence in it.” She acknowledged he is permitted the same rights as any criminal defendant—but nothing more.
“It is a bedrock principle of the judicial process in this country that legal trials are not like elections, to be won through the use of meeting hall, the radio and newspaper,” Chutkan said, adding, “Mr. Trump, like any American, has a right to free speech. But that right is not absolute.”
And what about the role of a trial and the imminent discovery phase—as well as the Justice Department itself—in interfering and undermining the beleaguered candidate’s presidential campaign, as his defense attorney John Lauro suggested to the judge? Judge Chutkan wasn’t having it.
“I see a desire to move this case along,” she said, noting that she has not seen “any evidence that this is politically motivated.” Moreover, “the existence of a political campaign is not going to have a bearing” on how she does her work.
In short, she said plainly, “He is a criminal defendant. He is going to have constraints the same as any defendant. This case is going to proceed in a normal order.”
“Normal order” may be the last thing we can anticipate whenever it concerns this malignant former White House occupant who thinks the law does not apply to him. In fact, he may have already shown off his refusal to hear what the judge said (assuming his defense counsel even shared with him the risks his flagrant behavior poses).
Yesterday, he reposted on Truth Social a message from a right-wing activist attacking the judge and including her photograph: “Judge Tanya Chutkan—an Obama leftwing activist judge in DC, whose husband also got appointed by Obama as a DC judge—openly admitted she’s running election interference against Trump.”
I don’t know how Judge Chutkan will view this reposting from someone else. But it sure reads like an “inflammatory” statement to me, one that can interfere with “normal order” and the “administration of justice.”
This may not be the action that leads Chutkan to pursue a gag order or take him into custody—accelerants that I’m sure she’s reluctant to impose. But it may be additional kindling to speed up the proceedings and get this man to trial. If so, that is good news.
One last note: If you haven’t read some of the thoughtful responses from Saturday about how extreme weather is influencing plans among America, America readers, I urge you to do so. So, too, my discussion prompt referenced at least 80 deaths in the horrendous Hawaii fires. The latest count has now risen to 93 souls lost—and that tragic number is expected to go yet higher. May you all stay safe.
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