Donald Trump was hit with a gag order on Monday thanks in part to a judge who understands how the former president manipulates technology and communications to bully people into silence.
Trump routinely attacks in public people who possess damaging information about him, impugning their character while suggesting that they deserve, as in the case of former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, death, among other fates.
And, the consequences are predictable. As U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan for the District of Columbia phrased it in a ruling released on Tuesday, those who face public attacks from Trump “are consequently threatened and harassed.”
Chutkan laid out her understanding of how Trump bullies people into silence in an opinion explaining her Monday gag order in Trump’s D.C. election reversal case. Chutkan banned Trump from publicly attacking prosecutors, potential witnesses, court staff, and families of those involved in the case.
Later on Tuesday, attorneys for Trump told Chutkan that they were appealing the ruling to the D.C. Circuit. Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal told MSNBC that any attempt to appeal the order was headed “nowhere.”
The order does not bar Trump from alleging that the case was brought for political motives; he’s free to keep up his patter of claiming that any attempt to hold him accountable is both a world-historical injustice and the product of a shadowy, Democrat-run cabal.
Chutkan drew a fine line there, separating general criticism of a supposedly politicized DOJ from the far more personal attacks of individuals involved in the case, which often lead to harassment of those targeted.
In Trump’s New York civil case, for example, he assailed a clerk to the presiding state judge as Chuck Schumer’s “girlfriend.” The judge in that case immediately gagged Trump from making further statements about court personnel.
Chutkan added that because of the internet, public attacks become “irreversible” because “revoking the offending statement” won’t necessarily cause resulting harassment to cease.
Trump faces charges in the D.C. case emanating from the months he spent trying to undermine the 2020 election and reverse his loss. Trump used similar tactics to try to stay in power; in the case of Georgia election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, for example, the former President and his acolytes falsely accused the pair of tampering with ballots in the state’s 2020 election. That fed a wave of harassment which forced the pair to leave their homes after the FBI warned Freeman that she was unsafe.
It’s the bully pulpit, turned in that case on random citizens. In the case of his criminal prosecutions, Chutkan wrote, Trump has an immense amount of power to intimidate witnesses and court staff.
Trump’s attorneys had argued that it was in fact a free speech issue, and that barring a presidential candidate from being able to speak out on issues of the day was unconstitutional.
Chutkan rejected that argument by saying that Trump should receive “equal treatment” as other criminal defendants. “Defendant’s presidential candidacy cannot excuse statements that would otherwise intolerably jeopardize these proceedings,” she wrote.