The Justice Department is asking the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s federal election fraud trial to impose some limitations on the former president’s public comments, saying he is seeking to undermine the criminal justice system with his incendiary rhetoric.

“The defendant’s repeated, inflammatory public statements regarding the District of Columbia, the Court, prosecutors, and potential witnesses are substantially likely to materially prejudice the jury pool, create fear among potential jurors, and result in threats or harassment to individuals he singles out,” prosecutors said.

Special counsel Jack Smith announces the indictment of former president Donald Trump during a news conference on Aug. 1. Trump has called Smith “deranged” and his fellow prosecutors “thugs.” Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

The request was made under seal earlier this month; a redacted version was published late Friday. Trump opposes the request, according to the government.

It is one of two court filings unsealed Friday in which the Justice Department expressed concern that Trump was imperiling the judicial process through his public comments – once again highlighting challenges the special counsel faces in prosecuting someone who is both a defendant and presidential candidate.

Prosecutors said they are not asking Judge Tanya S. Chutkan to keep Trump from quoting public court records or declaring his innocence. But the “limited” order they request would bar specific statements about witnesses, as well as any “disparaging and inflammatory, or intimidating” comments about anyone involved in the case, including potential jurors.

Chutkan, the focus of some of those attacks, has imposed a standard protective order governing sensitive case material but not any other limitation on public commentary. Legal experts say she will face a difficult task crafting guardrails for an active candidate for the presidency. One of his primary rivals, former vice president Mike Pence, is also a likely witness for the prosecution, and advisers say they see only political benefit for Trump in testing the boundaries of any court-imposed rules.


Prosecutors say Trump is making inappropriate comments on a “near-daily basis.” Examples given in the 19-page filing include Truth Social posts in which Trump called Smith “deranged” and his fellow prosecutors “thugs,” Chutkan a “fraud,” Pence “delusional,” and D.C. “filthy and crime ridden.” Prosecutors also cited a message in which Trump simply wrote, the day after his arraignment, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”

Prosecutors stay Trump is not just using epithets but spreading falsehoods, highlighting an instance in which Trump claimed that Smith inappropriately met with White House officials before the Florida indictment charging Trump with mishandling classified information. In fact, the government said, Trump “well knows” from the documents he has received in that case that a prosecutor from Smith’s office “conducted a routine investigative interview of a career military official at that official’s duty station – the White House.” That person worked for both the Trump and Biden administrations and was being questioned about Trump’s handling of boxes, people familiar with the matter have said.

The government compared Trump’s behavior to his attempts to keep control of the White House after the 2020 election, which form the basis of the four felony charges he faces in D.C. as well as a state-level case in Georgia.

“In service of his criminal conspiracies, through false public statements, the defendant sought to erode public faith in the administration of the election and intimidate individuals who refuted his lies,” the government wrote. “The defendant is now attempting to do the same thing in this criminal case – to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and prejudice the jury pool.”

Prosecutors go on to list several examples of people who described receiving threats after Trump posted about their refusal to support his false claims about the election. Those names are redacted in the public version of the filing. And they ask that any polling Trump does of potential jurors be reviewed by Chutkan for any language that might prejudice the people being questioned.

Trump has asked Chutkan to recuse herself from the case, arguing that her statements at the sentencings of Jan. 6 participants could give the appearance of bias. The government opposes that request.


Earlier Friday, another filing was unsealed in which prosecutors expressed concern that Trump was trying to obstruct their investigation through his public statements and by paying the legal bills of potential witnesses. That motion was first filed in April with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as part of a dispute over whether Twitter could tell Trump about a search warrant for his records.

A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit upheld a $350,000 sanction against Twitter for not complying with the search warrant on time; the company is now appealing that ruling, saying it was seeking to exercise its First Amendment rights by informing Trump about the search. In April, prosecutors argued that the secrecy was necessary because Trump had “taken several steps to undermine or otherwise influence” the special counsel investigation. “He has determined to pay the legal fees of potential witnesses against him and repeatedly disparaged the lead prosecutor on his Truth Social platform,” the prosecutors said.

The government has raised the legal payment issue in Florida, questioning whether an attorney paid for by Trump’s political action committee could ethically represent both a defendant in the case and multiple witnesses who may be called to testify at trial. One witness began cooperating with the special counsel only after getting a different lawyer, according to the government and people familiar with the matter.

In that same April filing, prosecutors revealed that they had accessed 32 direct messages from Trump’s Twitter account.


Devlin Barrett and Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.

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