U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has clipped former President Donald Trump‘s wings as she imposed a partial gag order on Monday, barring Trump from attacking witnesses, prosecutors and court staff involved in his federal election interference case, but one expert told Newsweek it’s all about balance.
Chutkan announced at the end of Monday’s hearing that she would impose a “narrowly tailored” gag order against Trump in the federal election interference case at the request of prosecutors, who cited the former president’s threatening comments about the key players in the courtroom as reason to restrict his speech on the case.
This comes after Trump was recently hit with another gag order in Trump’s $250 million civil fraud trial, a separate case in which the former president took to Truth Social to claim that a New York law clerk in Judge Arthur Engoron‘s court is romantically involved with Senator Chuck Schumer.
As part of the partial gag order, Chutkan said she would not impose restrictions on Trump’s statements about Washington, D.C., and its residence, nor on statements criticizing the government or the Justice Department—but is barring Trump from making or posting any statements publicly targeting special counsel Jack Smith, his staff, as well as court staff and personnel.
However, if the former president does not comply Chutkan said she would consider “sanctions” if she observes any violations.
“Mr. Trump may still vigorously seek public support as a presidential candidate, debate policies and people related to that candidacy, criticize the current administration and assert his belief that this prosecution is politically motivated,” Judge Chutkan said. “But those critical First Amendment freedoms do not allow him to launch a pre-trial smear campaign against participating government staff, their families and foreseeable witnesses.”
While gag orders are not uncommon in trial cases, Trump’s ongoing campaign and status as the GOP frontrunner in the 2024 presidential election has led the former president to allege the gag order to be politically motivated.
Trump has been known to take to his Truth Social account to often discredit allegations and accusations against him while simultaneously calling out and accusing others of being against him.
However, law professor and political scientist Anthony Michael Kreis told Newsweek the imposed gag order is there to protect individuals involved in the case, while also balancing Trump’s freedom of speech.
“The order is tailored to protect the administration of justice by shielding individuals involved in the case from Trump’s attacks while still permitting Trump to criticize the prosecution in broad terms. Judge Chutkan’s strong but limited order tries to balance the interests of the judicial process’ integrity against Trump’s free speech interests, which is a prudent measure given Trump’s penchant for going after people involved in the cases against him,” Kreis said in a statement emailed to Newsweek.
While Palm Beach County State Attorney, Dave Aronberg told Newsweek the order is fair, but that the question is whether it will be enforced.
“Judge Chutkan’s order is fair. It balances Trump’s First Amendment rights as a candidate for President with his obligations as a criminal defendant not to intimidate witnesses or imperil the prosecutors and court personnel. The big question is whether it will be enforced if and when the former President violates it. All the gag orders in the world mean nothing if they aren’t enforced,” Aronberg said in a statement emailed to Newsweek.
Chutkan has scheduled Trump’s trial to begin on March 4 and emphasized that the date would not change.
Newsweek has reached out to other legal analysts for additional comment.