US District Judge Sudgan asked A hearing on Friday focused on what limits will be placed on how the former president can handle the tone of how he will preside over the election upset against Donald Trump.
Sudcon opened the hearing — the first before him and in his courtroom in DC federal court — by saying that while Trump’s rights as a criminal defendant are protected, his First Amendment right to free speech is “No. Absolutely.”
“In a criminal case like this, the defendant’s freedom of speech is subject to the rules,” he said.
He concluded the hearing by assuring that the case would progress like any normal proceeding in the criminal justice system, but warned that if more “inflammatory” statements were made by either party, he would move quickly toward a trial. A fair arbiter.
“It is a fundamental principle of the judicial process in this country,” he said, citing the precedent that “trials are not like elections, but are won through the use of public halls, radio and newspapers.”
“This case is no exception,” he said.
During the hearing, he expressed some skepticism about arguments made by the office of special counsel Jack Smith, who sided with Trump on at least some matters related to the protective order on evidence that was the subject of Friday’s hearing. Addressing the government’s submission that it refused to allow it to be filed under seal, he also stressed the need for public transparency in the document.
The hearing, which lasted about an hour and 40 minutes, was the first in the case Before Sudkhan. He has already shown a habit of responding quickly and forcefully to inter-party debates over planning. Sudgan, an Obama appointee and former public defender who oversaw several cases related to the events of January 6, 2021. The damage caused by the attack on the US capitol was openly discussed happened to American democracy.
Trump pleaded not guilty last week to four criminal charges related to his efforts to sway the 2020 presidential election, and a judge warned Trump’s lawyers, who are not on trial, against any public statements by their client that could intimidate witnesses.
Whether or not Trump’s public statements are covered by the publication protection order, he said, “I will scrutinize them very carefully” if they constitute witness intimidation or obstruction of justice.
Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, said: “President Trump will carefully abide by the terms of his release.”
Later, Sudkan said, “even a vague statement from any party or counsel … can threaten the process.”
Sutgen accepted restrictions proposed by prosecutors that would have prevented the public release of information from interview transcripts and records of the investigation, including witness interviews with investigators that took place outside of the grand jury. He also rejected Trump’s requests for broader language to allow those who don’t work directly on the security team — including volunteers — to access the discovery.
He agreed with Trump, however, that the scope of evidence the restrictions would cover should be narrower than advocates have proposed.
How Sutgen is handling the case will be in contrast to U.S. District Judge Eileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in Florida who has been in less of a rush to move proceedings in the classified documents case against the former president. Cannon has already been heavily scrutinized for what critics say was a favorable ruling against the former president in a previous case that brought up challenging aspects of the Trump Justice Department’s investigation last year.
Sutgan and Lauro had several sharp exchanges about what the 2024 presidential contender should be allowed to say about evidence turned in his case.
“Nobody disagrees that any speech that intimidates a witness should be prohibited, what we’re talking about is the fair use of information,” Lauro said at one point, suggesting that Trump was referring publicly to something from his personal memory. Evidence in the case.
“The fact that he is currently campaigning for politics is subject to the administration of justice,” the judge said. “If he can’t say exactly what he wants to say in a political speech, how should it be.”
Lauro raised the hypothesis that Trump made a statement during the debate with his former Vice President Mike Pence — now running for the White House and a key witness in the criminal case — that overlapped with what was in the findings.
The judge was not sold.
“He is a criminal. Like any defendant, he has restrictions. The case will proceed in the usual manner,” said Sudkhan.
“You’re confusing what your client needs to do to defend himself and what he wants to do politically,” he told him. “Whatever your client does to defend himself should happen in this court, not on the Internet.”
This story has been updated with additional updates.