Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to block former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers from claiming to the jury at his upcoming election interference trial that the case was brought against him as a partisan attack on Biden administration.
The prosecutors’ move was intended to prevent Mr. Trump from openly politicizing his trial and distracting the jury with baseless political arguments that he often made both on the campaign trail and in court documents related to the case.
Since Mr. Trump was charged this summer with plotting to overturn the 2020 election, he and his lawyers have sought to portray the indictment as retaliation against him by President Biden. Mr. Trump has also made the claims central to his presidential campaign, even though the charges were initially dismissed by a federal grand jury and are being overseen by an independent special counsel, Jack Smith.
Molly Gaston, one of Mr. Smith’s top aides, asked Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is handling the election case in the federal district court in Washington, to keep Mr. Trump’s political attacks as as far away from the jury as possible.
“The court should not allow the defendant to turn the courtroom into a forum in which he spreads irrelevant misinformation,” Ms. Gaston wrote, “and should reject his attempt to inject politics into this procedure”.
The 20-page motion was filed two weeks after Judge Chutkan effectively froze the case, while an appeals court considers Mr. Trump’s broad claims that he is immune from prosecution. The Supreme Court last week declined to immediately consider the immunity issue, although the justices are expected to take up the issue once the appeals court completes its highly expedited review.
In her application to Judge Chutkan, Ms. Gaston acknowledged that deadlines in the case are currently suspended due to the appeal. But she said the special prosecutor’s office nonetheless decided to honor them “to promote the expeditious resumption of pretrial proceedings” once the immunity issue is decided.
It was not the first time Mr. Smith’s team sought to move the case forward during the break, moves that sparked outrage from Mr. Trump’s lawyers. Mr Trump himself responded to Ms Gaston’s case on his social media platform, Truth Social, saying he had ignored Judge Chutkan’s order to stay the case.
Mr. Trump also complained that the complaint was intended to prevent him from claiming that the four criminal charges against him were “nothing more than political persecution against myself, against the MAGA movement and against the Republican Party.
While prosecutors have tried to keep the election trial on schedule, namely its current opening date of March 4, the former president’s legal team has often worked in the opposite direction, using every lever at his disposition to slow down the matter.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers hope to postpone the case until the 2024 election is decided. If that were to happen and Mr. Trump won the race, he would simply have the power to order the charges against him dropped.
The documents Ms. Gaston filed with Judge Chutkan were intended to outline the contours of the evidence the jury will hear at trial. Prosecutors have previously suggested they want to tell a sweeping story that would include Mr. Trump’s long history of false claims about election fraud and a detailed account of the role he played in inspiring the violence that erupted at the Capitol on January 6. 2021.
Keeping “baseless political allegations” out of the trial was clearly one of Ms. Gaston’s priorities. Mr. Trump has relentlessly sought to present the case in Washington – in which he is accused of plotting to overturn his defeat in the last election – as a form of election interference in itself.
His lawyers, often using exaggerated language, have used court documents to make similar claims, arguing that the indictment was filed against Mr. Trump on orders from Mr. Biden in order to eliminate him from the upcoming race presidential.
“None of these questions concern the guilt or innocence of the accused,” Ms. Gaston wrote. “All should be excluded.”
In her filing, Ms. Gaston also asked Judge Chutkan to block Mr. Trump from presenting other types of evidence that his lawyers have said they want to use at trial.
The lawyers, for example, have suggested they intend to challenge the U.S. national security community’s conclusions that the 2020 election was conducted fairly. They also said they wanted to tell the jury that foreign governments had interfered in the race.
Ms. Gaston objected to the use of this evidence at trial, calling it an “irrelevant and confusing sideshow.”
She also asked Judge Chutkan to prevent Mr. Trump and his lawyers from attributing the violence at the Capitol to the failures of the Capitol Police and the National Guard, or from claiming that the riot was started by agents infiltrators or informants present in the crowd.
Republican lawmakers and right-wing politicians have long tried to claim that people working for the government itself incited the mob at the Capitol to attack the building in order to discredit Mr. Trump and his supporters.
But Ms Gaston said such accounts should be kept out of the trial because it would be a waste of time and resources.
“Allowing the defendant to present evidence about undercover actors would inevitably lead to confusing mini-trials on collateral issues, such as the identity and intentions of the alleged undercover actors,” she wrote. “For example, it may require the government to present evidence demonstrating that the people the defendant claims were undercover actors were actually his vocal supporters. »
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