Federal prosecutors on Tuesday urged the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s election interference case in Washington to take steps to protect the identity of prospective jurors, citing the former president’s “continued use of social media as a weapon of intimidation in court proceedings.”
Special counsel Jack Smith’s team wants U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to issue a written questionnaire to help the two sides choose potential jurors in the case accusing the former Republican president of illegally plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. But it also would give lawyers early access to the identities of possible jurors.
Prosecutors said in court papers they are concerned about what Trump might do with research on possible jurors, pointing to his recent disparagement of the clerk of the New York judge overseeing Trump’s civil business fraud trial that caused the judge to issue a limited gag order.
Trump in that case posted a photo of Judge Arthur Engoron’s principal law clerk posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a public event, writing that it was “disgraceful” the clerk was working with the judge. Engoron ordered Trump to delete the post and barred all parties from smearing court personnel.
“Given that the defendant — after apparently reviewing opposition research on court staff — chose to use social media to publicly attack a court staffer, there is cause for concern about what he may do with social media research on potential jurors in this case,” prosecutors in the election interference case wrote.
Smith’s team is asking the court to bar those involved in the case from “following” or “friending” prospective jurors on social media in order to gain access to private pages, and prohibit any investigation of jurors “that could reasonably be perceived as vexatious or harassing.” Prosecutors also want the judge to prohibit both sides from using information gained through juror research for any purpose other than jury selection, and require that lawyers make sure that anyone who has access to sensitive jury materials understands they cannot publicly disclose the information.
The government’s motion indicates that defense attorneys oppose it. John Lauro, an attorney for Trump, declined to comment on Tuesday. Judge Chutkan ordered the defense to file any opposition brief by Oct. 20.
In their filing, prosecutors noted that the judge overseeing another civil case against Trump in New York — writer E. Jean Carroll’s rape lawsuit — ordered that chosen jurors’ names be kept secret — even from the lawyers — citing “a very strong risk” they otherwise would face harassment from supporters of the former president. Prosecutors noted those measures were “far more restrictive” than the ones they are seeking, but urged Chutkan to “likewise protect prospective and selected jurors in this case from intimidation and fear.”
In Trump’s election interference case in Georgia, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee recently ruled that jurors or prospective jurors can only be identified by number in court filings or in open court and that, during the trial, no one can disclose any information that would reveal their identity or any lists of jurors or prospective jurors or other specific paperwork related to the process.
Prosecutors’ motion is the latest flashpoint in the case over Trump’s repeated social media attacks on prosecutors, the judge and others. Chutkan is scheduled to hold arguments on Monday over another request from prosecutors to issue a narrow gag order that would bar Trump from making inflammatory and intimidating comments about lawyers, witnesses and other people involved in the case.
Prosecutors on Tuesday also urged the judge to require that Trump notify the court by mid-December if he plans to mount a defense asserting that he was relying on the advice of attorneys around him in 2020, as his lawyers have suggested in media interviews they will do.
Prosecutors said that at least 25 witnesses during the investigation withheld documents and other information from investigators. citing attorney-client privilege, including former campaign employees and a Trump family member. Trump would have to waive that privilege over certain communications if he invokes such a defense, providing prosecutors access to more evidence.
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this story.