US District Judge Tanya Chutkan has issued a protective order barring former President Donald Trump from publicly disclosing “sensitive information” – including witness interviews – that’s turned over to his legal team by special counsel investigators in the 2020 election interference case.
While Chutkan declined a broader protective order sought by prosecutors who wanted to lock down all evidence turned over in discovery, she did restrict how Trump and his legal team can handle and publicly share sensitive information.
Her order defines sensitive information as grand jury secrets, including subpoenaed information and witness testimony; transcripts and recordings of witness interviews done by investigators outside of the grand jury; evidence obtained through court-approved searches, and sealed orders related to the investigation. The evidence Trump cannot share publicly also includes material from other government agencies, such as the Secret Service.
Prosecutors say the sensitive information represents a large amount of the evidence they’ve collected.
The order also specifies that while Trump can review the evidence unaccompanied by a lawyer and take notes about it, he cannot put in those notes any especially personal identifying information and cannot make photos, copies or recordings of the evidence.
During a hearing Friday in federal court in Washington, DC., prosecutors had pushed for even stricter rules, while Trump’s lawyers expressed concerns that the former president would inadvertently violate a protective order when making political statements on the 2024 campaign trail.
Chutkan repeatedly raised concerns about witness intimidation if certain restrictions were not imposed on what Trump could disclose from the evidence prosecutors hand over.
Arguing in favor of more limitations for when Trump viewed the sensitive discovery himself, prosecutor Thomas Windom said that the “defense counsel has a certain level of trust in the defendant that the government does not.”
In another exchange, Windom told the judge that the investigators routinely recorded witness interviews done outside of the grand jury and that there “hundreds of recordings of witness interviews.”
He warned that, without the restriction, there was nothing stopping Trump from publishing small snippets of the interviews and potentially tainting the jury pool.
When Trump attorney John Lauro took a turn to argue, he did not get far with the judge.
“You are conflating what your client needs to do to defend himself and what he wants to do politically,” she told him. “And what your client does to defend himself has to happen in this courtroom, not on the internet.”
Lauro put forward a hypothetical of Trump making a statement while debating his former Vice President Mike Pence – who is also running for the White House now and is a key witness in the criminal case – that overlapped with what’s in discovery.
The judge told Lauro the example wasn’t helping his arguments.
“He is a criminal defendant. He is going to have constraints the same as any defendant. This case is going to proceed in a normal order,” Chutkan said, referring to Trump.