The Premise Of Trump’s J6 Trial Is An Affront To Free Elections

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A remarkable thing happened on Monday in former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial over his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election. U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a gag order effectively prohibiting Trump, currently the leading GOP candidate for president, from defending himself in public ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

The gag order means Trump cannot speak publicly about the trial, potential witnesses, court personnel, or Special Counsel Jack Smith, the federal prosecutor who requested the gag order and characterized it as “modest” and “permissible.”

As my colleague Tristan Justice pointed out in these pages yesterday, that means Trump is barred from campaigning against his chief political opponent, which isn’t just President Joe Biden but the entire federal government, especially the Justice Department.

It also means there’s a potentially limitless number of things Trump could say on the campaign trail that would violate the gag order. Julie Kelly, who was in the courtroom Monday, noted on X (formerly Twitter) that there was an entire debate about whether it would be appropriate to allow Trump to use the phrase “Crooked Joe Biden.” A reporter for OANN relayed an exchange between Chutkan and Trump’s defense attorney about whether Trump could call Smith a “thug.” Chutkan, an Obama appointee with a long track record of politically charged Jan. 6 rulings, said she didn’t think such language was “necessary to advance a political campaign,” as if she’s any more competent to decide what sort of campaign rhetoric is necessary than she is to assess the value of Mar-a-Lago.

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