Judge Rejects Trump’s Bid To Hold Jack Smith In Contempt, But Limits ‘Substantive’ Filings

The judge presiding over special counsel Jack Smith’s 2020 election case in Washington, D.C., delivered a mixed ruling on Thursday in response to former President Donald Trump‘s push to hold prosecutors in contempt for allegedly violating a court order pausing the proceedings while an immunity-focused appeal plays out.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, an Obama appointee, granted the recommendation by Trump’s lawyers to forbid both sides from filing “substantive pretrial motions” without first seeking permission from the court. But she denied the rest of Trump’s motion, which included a push for the court to order Smith to “show cause” why prosecutors should not be held in contempt.

Lawyers for Trump claimed that prosecutors violated the judge’s stay last month by making filings, including thousands of pages of discovery, during the appeal. They also accused Smith’s team of seeking to “weaponize” the pause “to spread political propaganda, knowing that President Trump would not fully respond because the Court relieved him of the burdens of litigation during the Stay.”

Prosecutors argued Trump’s motion should be denied as they prepare for what is currently scheduled to be a trial set for early March. “The Government has not violated — and never intentionally would violate — an order of the Court, and the defendant’s recycled allegations of partisanship and prosecutorial misconduct remain baseless,” Smith’s team wrote in a filing. Prosecutors also said they intended to “comply with its continuing discovery obligations and to voluntarily satisfy the remaining deadlines.”

The clash began after Chutkan rejected Trump’s bid to dismiss the case, in which the former president is accused of unlawfully plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She paused the proceedings when Trump’s legal team filed an appeal that hinges on presidential immunity and double jeopardy claims. With the Supreme Court refusing to quickly take up the question of whether presidential immunity provides Trump broad protections against prosecution, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is considering the matter. Oral arguments took place last week, and reporting on the hearing indicated that the judges were skeptical of the immunity claim.

A trial is currently set to start on March 4 — one day before Super Tuesday — but that may change depending on how long it takes for the presidential immunity issue to be settled.  Upon freezing the case in mid-December, Chutkan said her stay would stop “any further proceedings that would move this case towards trial or impose additional burdens of litigation on Defendant.” But there were some caveats, underscoring that stayed deadlines and proceedings have not been “permanently vacated” and protective measures — such as the gag order against Trump — would remain in place unless a higher court ruled otherwise

Chutkan stated in her ruling on Thursday that any party seeking permission to make a “substantive” filing “shall state whether the proposed motion is ancillary to the pending appeal and so requires a timely response or other action before the mandate is returned.” She added, “This measure is an addition to the Stay Order, aimed to further advance its purposes, and does not reflect a determination that the Government has violated any of its clear and unambiguous terms or acted in bad faith.”

As he runs a third campaign for the White House, Trump is facing three other criminal cases, including another one led by Smith over the former president’s handling of classified documents, as well as civil litigation and ballot access challenges. Trump has broadly denied any wrongdoing and has argued that politically motivated prosecutors are conducting a “witch hunt” against him.

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