Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to block former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers from telling jurors in his upcoming election interference trial that the case had been brought against him as a partisan attack by the administration. Biden.
The move by prosecutors was designed to prevent Trump from overtly politicizing his trial and distracting jurors with baseless political arguments he has often made both on the campaign trail and in court filings related to the case.
Since Trump was charged this summer with conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, he and his lawyers have tried to frame the accusation as a retaliatory attack on him by President Biden. Trump has also placed such claims at the center of his presidential campaign, even though the charges were initially returned by a federal grand jury and are being overseen by an independent special prosecutor, Jack Smith.
Molly Gaston, one of Smith's top aides, asked Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is handling the election case in U.S. District Court in Washington, to keep Trump's political attacks as far 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,” Gaston wrote, “and should reject his attempt to inject politics into these proceedings.”
The 20-page motion was filed two weeks after Judge Chutkan effectively froze the case while an appeals court considers Trump's broad claims that he is immune from prosecution. Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the immunity question immediately, although the justices are likely to take up the issue after the appeals court completes its highly expedited review.
In her motion before Judge Chutkan, Ms. Gaston acknowledged that the timelines of the case were currently on hold due to the appeal. But she said the special counsel's office had nonetheless decided to honor them “to promote the prompt resumption of the pretrial schedule” after the immunity issue is decided.
This is not the first time Smith's team has tried to push the case during the pause, moves that have sparked outrage from Trump's lawyers. The former president's legal team has often worked in the opposite direction, using every means at its disposal to stop the case.
Trump's lawyers hope to postpone the case until after the 2024 election is decided. If that were to happen and Trump won the race, he would have the power to simply order the charges against him to be dropped.
Ms. Gaston's presentation before Judge Chutkan was intended to shape the evidence the jury will hear at the trial, which is scheduled to begin on March 4. Prosecutors have already suggested they want to tell a broad story that includes Mr. Trump's long history of making false claims about election fraud and a detailed account of the role he played in inspiring the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Keeping “unfounded political claims” out of the trial was clearly one of Gaston's priorities. Trump has tirelessly tried to present the case in Washington – in which he is accused of conspiring to overturn his loss in the last election – as a form of electoral interference in itself.
His lawyers, often using exaggerated language, have used court documents to make similar claims, arguing that the indictment was brought against Trump at Biden's direction as a means to remove him from the upcoming presidential race.
“None of these issues address the guilt or innocence of the defendant,” Ms. Gaston wrote. “They should all be excluded.”
In his filing, Gaston also asked Judge Chutkan to block Trump from presenting other types of evidence that his lawyers have said they plan to use in the trial.
Lawyers, for example, have suggested that they intend to challenge the US national security community's conclusions that the 2020 election was conducted fairly. They have also indicated that they want to tell the jury that foreign governments interfered in the race.
Ms. Gaston objected to any of this evidence being used at trial, calling it “an irrelevant and confusing sideshow.”
He also asked Judge Chutkan to prevent Trump and his lawyers from blaming the violence at the Capitol on failures by the Capitol Police and National Guard, or from arguing that the riot was sparked by undercover officers or informants in the crowd.
Republican lawmakers and right-wing politicians have long tried to claim that people working for the government itself provoked the mob at the Capitol to attack the building as a way to discredit Trump and his supporters.
But Ms. Gaston said such narratives should be kept out of the trial as a waste of time and resources.
“Allowing the defendant to present evidence about covert actors would inevitably lead to confusing mini-trials over collateral issues, such as the identities and intentions of the alleged covert actors,” he wrote. “For example, it may require the government to present evidence showing that the people the defendant alleges were undercover actors were actually his vehement supporters.”
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