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Warned not to, Trump assails judge in election case

Warned not to, Trump assails judge in election case

By Michelle L. Price | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Donald Trump is assailing the federal judge overseeing the election conspiracy case against him, days after she warned him not to make inflammatory statements about the case.

The former president made posts Monday on his social media network calling U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan “highly partisan” and ” VERY BIASED & UNFAIR!” because of her past comments in a separate case overseeing the sentencing of one of the defendants charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Chutkan in a hearing Friday imposed a protective order in the case limiting what evidence handed over by prosecutors the former president and his legal team can publicly disclose. She warned Trump’s lawyers that his defense should be mounted in the courtroom and “not on the internet.”

Trump posted about the case online anyway, firing off about the judge.

A spokesperson for special counsel Jack Smith declined to comment Monday.

Prosecutors sought the protective order after calling attention to another earlier post on Trump’s social media platform, in which he said he would be “coming after” those who “go after” him. The prosecutors said improper of sharing evidence could have a “harmful chilling effect on witnesses.”

Chutkan said that if anyone makes “inflammatory” statements about the case, she would be inclined to move more quickly to trial to prevent any intimidation of witnesses or contamination of the jury pool.

The judge agreed with Trump’s defense team on a looser version of a protective order barring the public release only of materials deemed sensitive, like grand jury material. But prosecutors consider most of the evidence in the case to be sensitive, and she largely sided with the government on what will get that label and protections.

Protective orders are standard in criminal cases to protect the disclosure of sensitive information that could impact the trial.

In his social media post Monday, Trump quoted from remarks Chutkan made in a 2022 sentencing hearing for Christine Priola, an Ohio woman who pleaded guilty last year to obstructing Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory – one of the same charges Trump is facing.

“The people who mobbed that Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man — not to the Constitution, of which most of the people who come before me seem woefully ignorant; not to the ideals of this country, and not to the principles of democracy,” Chutkan said, according to a transcript of the October 2022 hearing. “It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.”

Trump has indicated his legal team will ask Chutkan to recuse herself from the case, which judges are supposed to do when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

But David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor, said Chutkan’s comment won’t help Trump’s case that he needs a new judge.

“I understand why he’s trying to twist her words and use them against her, but I don’t think it crosses the line,” said Weinstein, now a white collar criminal defense attorney.

Weinstein said Trump appears to be trying to “egg her on into doing something that’s going to give him the grounds to file a motion to recuse.”

“She has to careful not to take the bait,” he said.

Prosecutors with special counsel Smith’s team have asked the judge to set a Jan. 2 trial date, which is less than two weeks before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. That prompted other angry posts online from Trump last week.

Trump and his lawyers claimed prosecutors’ proposed protective order that sought to prevent the public release of all evidence they provide the defense would violate his First Amendment rights of free speech. And the Republican has vowed to keep talking about the case — and his other legal challenges — as he campaigns again for the White House.

Trump spoke about the case while he was campaigning at the Iowa State Fair over the weekend, declining to tell reporters whether he would comply with the protective order. He said, “The whole thing is a fake — it was put out by Biden, because they can’t win an election the fair way.”

Trump, in another post Monday, wrote of Chutkan: “She obviously wants me behind bars. VERY BIASED & UNFAIR!”

Chutkan, a former assistant public defender who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, was confirmed to the bench with Republican support in a 95-0 vote in the Senate in 2014.

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She has been one of the toughest punishers of rioters who stormed the Capitol. federal judges in Washington have sentenced nearly 600 defendants for their roles in the attack, which was fueled by Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by fraud.

The case cited in Trump’s post, however, is one where Chutkan actually imposed a sentence that was lighter than prosecutors sought. She sentenced Priola to 15 months in prison. Federal prosecutors had asked for 18 months.

Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston, Lindsay Whitehurst in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.