After a week of bitter court filings, federal prosecutors and Donald Trump’s defense lawyers are scheduled to appear in Washington, DC, federal court Friday morning for the first hearing before the judge assigned to oversee the special counsel’s election subversion case against the former president.
Judge Tanya Chutkan has already shown a habit of responding quickly and tersely on the docket to debates between the parties over scheduling. An Obama appointee and former public defender who has overseen several cases regarding the events of January 6, 2021, Chutkan has been outspoken about the harm the US Capitol attack caused to American democracy.
Friday’s hearing could set the tone for how the case against Trump will proceed and how Chutkan will manage what has already been contentious feuding between the parties and test her abilities to keep the proceedings on track.
How Chutkan handles the case is likely to serve as a contrast to US District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in Florida who has been in less of a rush to move proceedings along in the classified documents case against the former president. She has already been heavily scrutinized for what critics say is a favorable treatment of the former president in a previous lawsuit Trump brought last year challenging aspects of the Justice Department’s investigation.
Trump pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges related to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election last week. The special counsel said Thursday it wants the trial to begin on January 2, 2024, a date Trump’s team is expected to oppose.
Scope of protective order over evidence: In Friday’s hearing, lawyers are slated to debate the scope of a protective order governing evidence that prosecutors say proves Trump conspired to overturn the election, interrupt Congress and take away every American citizen’s right to have their vote counted.
Protective orders are a normal part of any criminal case and are typically approved without much drama. In this case, however, the special counsel’s office and Trump’s defense lawyers have battled in court filings over what Trump will be able to discuss publicly.
Among the restrictions the prosecutors are requesting in this case is a rule barring Trump’s lawyers from providing copies of “sensitive” evidence to the former president, including witness interviews and grand jury transcripts from the dozens of witnesses in Trump’s circle who have spoken to prosecutors.
To make their point, prosecutors pointed to Trump’s social media posts since he was indicted last week, including a vague and ominous Truth Social post reading “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” Trump also slammed Chutka.
The posts, prosecutors said, emphasized the need for a protective order that would limit whether Trump can discuss or share evidence on his social media accounts during the course of the legal case.
For their part, Trump’s legal team proposed less restrictive rules, alleging that prosecutors are on a politically motivated campaign to restrict his First Amendment rights. His defense lawyers pushed back on prosecutors’ definition of “sensitive” material that should be subject to additional rules, and asked to expand who can access certain evidentiary materials.
If Trump were to violate any eventual protective order Chutkan issues, he could be held in contempt.