Donald Trump’s frustration over his ability to speak publicly about his federal election conspiracy case is fueling his plans to continue posting about it on social media, slamming the judge over the weekend after she warned him not to intimidate witnesses, obstruct justice or try to muddy his ability to have a fair trial, according to sources close to the former president.
Trump criticized Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, as “highly partisan” and “very biased & unfair” on Truth Social early Monday morning, setting up an early test of the limits that Chutkan has imposed on Trump’s speech as a criminal defendant under the law.
The former president has insisted it’s his First Amendment right to defend himself publicly and has always viewed social media as his most direct way of communicating with his voters, two sources close to Trump told CNN and according to legal arguments made by his lawyer to Chutkan.
“He’ll share what he feels is necessary and if she has a problem with it, [she] will address it,” one Trump adviser said, referring to Chutkan.
That could prove risky for the former president. It’s plausible that if Trump crosses a line with his social media posts, Justice Department prosecutors would bring the issue to the court. Chutkan could also place greater restrictions on him including even revoking his ability to await trial outside of jail.
Sources close to Trump stressed that the former president has privately insisted he is being unfairly targeted by the US Justice system and that he turns to Truth Social to share his personal views on the “injustice” of what he is facing.
It’s unclear exactly how Trump’s lawyers have advised him since Chutkan’s directions and warnings Friday. The judge said on Friday at the first hearing with prosecutors and Trump’s team that she saw no political motivation from the special counsel’s office.
Trump’s legal team recognizes the need to approach his posting carefully, his advisers told CNN, but they do not anticipate that Trump will completely cease posting about the 2020 election subversion case, nor the other cases he faces — especially given he is running for president.
“Anyone who thinks they’re gonna control what he posts on Truth or what he says in media interviews, they’re sort of kidding themselves,” said one Trump aide.
Several former Trump lawyers have struggled to control his fuming on social media regarding investigations, causing a series of splits between the former president and his attorneys.
Despite Trump’s frustration, lawyers working with the former president were generally pleased with the outcome of Friday’s hearing and Chutkan’s decisions so far, according to sources around the former president.
“What she said in the filing wasn’t a hard and fast rule not to post about anything specific. It was pretty generic,” the Trump aide told CNN. “It just didn’t seem like there was a lot of teeth to it.”
Chutkan has ordered that Trump not obstruct justice or intimidate witnesses as part of his conditions of release. On Friday, the judge set specific limits on the kind of information he can share publicly as the Justice Department prepares to share evidence it has gathered during its investigation. She has yet to set a trial date for the case, though the DOJ has asked for jury selection to begin in December.
Attorneys around Trump view Chutkan as a fair and experienced jurist – even as she sends a tough message to Trump about lines he cannot cross before trial. They also reiterated to CNN that they don’t think his posts so far cross the court’s orders barring him from intimidation.
Following Supreme Court precedent, Chutkan had made clear the courts have the authority to limit free speech, especially as they seek to ensure a fair trial for a criminal defendant.
“She said, you know, he has a right to the First Amendment … put that in the context of a presidential campaign, it just didn’t seem like there was a lot of teeth to it,” the Trump aide added.
One of Trump’s attorneys in court on Friday also agreed with the judge that speech that could intimidate witnesses would cross the court’s line.
“I can assure you that my client will abide by the integrity of the process, but he also can’t be subject to some kind of a contempt trap,” Trump attorney John Lauro argued. Chutkan largely agreed with the limitations around evidence that Lauro and another lawyer for Trump, Todd Blanche, sought at the hearing.
Chutkan said Friday she will work to prevent “a carnival atmosphere of unchecked publicity” in the case, adding, “The fact that he’s running a political campaign currently has to yield to the orderly administration of justice.” She also said, “If that means that he can’t say exactly what he wants to say about people who may be witnesses in this case, that’s how it’s going to have to be.”
She also said at the hearing she would be paying attention to Trump’s statements outside of court. “Inflammatory comments” that could taint a jury may weigh in favor of an earlier trial, the judge added.