Federal Court Issues Protections For Witnesses In Trump’s Jan. 6 Criminal Case

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In a recent decision, a three-judge panel on a federal court of appeals upheld certain, previously imposed restrictions on public statements made by Donald Trump in the context of a criminal case he is facing over his actions around the 2020 election. Upheld portions included limits on speaking about witnesses in the case, and the court specifically cited social media statements from Trump as subject to the authority setting up these restrictions.

Trump has already referenced online various individuals directly connected to the case, including ret. Gen. Mark Milley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. Trump’s commentary has at times been extreme, like in the case of Trump’s suggestion for Milley’s execution on the basis of supposed precedent in history.

“In each of these scenarios, the defendant’s speech about witness testimony or cooperation imperils the availability, content, and integrity of witness testimony,” the court said, discussing examples showcasing the problem. “Accordingly, the district court had the authority to prevent Mr. Trump from laundering communications concerning witnesses and addressing their potential trial participation through social media postings or other public comments.” The examples they cited included statements made on social media that would have fundamentally the same, potentially chilling effect as statements explicitly prohibited in any direct communications between the defendant — meaning Trump — and witnesses, with the only real difference being the venue for the comments.

The court also discussed potential impacts on other witnesses from the spread of Trump’s antagonistic commentary, pointing to the extensive precedent in legal practice for guarding witness testimony.

The government, meanwhile, previewed in a recent filing some of the evidence it intends to bring forth at trial on Trump’s charges, a cache including statements from Trump falsely alleging fraud before 2020 and even his 2020 debate comment that members of the Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by,” which participants in that extremist organization took as a rallying cry. Trump, in turn, later provided key persons with support, complaining about the treatment faced by former national Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio in his January 6 criminal case.