Donald Trump has finally begun to face consequences for the kinds of attacks on the judicial process and key figures that some experts wager would not be tolerated from another criminal defendant. He was even fined again in his New York civil case Wednesday.
But he has also greeted a pending decision about a gag order by making one of his most direct attacks against potential witnesses against him — and one of his most direct challenges to judges who dare try to rein him in.
ABC News reported Tuesday night that special counsel Jack Smith has granted former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows immunity as he delivers key testimony in Trump’s federal election interference case. Meadows’s lawyer disputed the report.
Trump responded by issuing a broadside not just against a potentially cooperating Meadows, but seemingly — by extension — allies who have cut deals in recent days in his other election interference case, in Fulton County, Ga.
Trump on Truth Social said he doubted Meadows would say the things ABC reported he did.
“BUT,” Trump added, “when you really think about it, after being hounded like a dog for three years, told you’ll be going to jail for the rest of your life … If you say BAD THINGS about that terrible ‘MONSTER,’ DONALD J. TRUMP, we won’t put you in prison, you can keep your family and your wealth, and, perhaps, if you can make up some really horrible ‘STUFF’ [about] him, we may very well erect a statue of you in the middle of our decaying and now very violent Capital, Washington, D.C. Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future our Failing Nation.”
Trump’s comments would seem to transparently violate the limited gag order that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan issued in Trump’s federal case but later suspended while Trump’s legal team appeals the decision.
(The government is due to weigh in Wednesday and will surely include Trump’s most recent comments. Separately Wednesday, Trump was fined $10,000 in New York for violating a gag order there preventing him from attacking the judge’s staff.)
Whether the comments violate the conditions of Trump’s pretrial release is the critical question. Trump signed a form in August acknowledging that it would be a crime to “intimidate or attempt to intimidate a witness, victim, juror, informant, or officer of the court.”
The suspended gag order barred Trump from addressing potential witnesses’ roles in the case. Trump in his Tuesday post also called Smith “deranged” yet again, despite Chutkan’s having explicitly cited that attack as being beyond the pale.
“I cannot imagine any other criminal case in which a defendant is permitted to call the prosecutor ‘deranged’ or ‘a thug,’ Chutkan said Oct. 16, “and I will not permit it here simply because the defendant is running a political campaign.”
Trump is clearly intent upon testing what Chutkan will permit. His new post, after all, goes further than many, if not all, of his past comments about potential witnesses:
Trump at one point urged a witness not to testify in Fulton County.He has disputed former vice president Mike Pence’s reported testimony.He has broadly attacked potential witnesses like former attorney general William P. Barr and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman — even invoking the death penalty in the latter case — while not citing their testimony.He recently called a key emerging witness in his classified-documents case a “red headed weirdo.”He recently claimed Sidney Powell “WAS NOT MY ATTORNEY” — despite his past comments to the contrary — shortly after she cut a plea deal in the Fulton County case.Less than 24 hours after a magistrate judge warned him against witness tampering in August, Trump offered a vague post saying, “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!”
Where the new comments differ from these is in how direct and potentially broadly felt they are.
Here, Trump is responding directly to a report that a key witness was testifying in ways that could harm Trump. He did that with Pence, but in that case, Trump’s legal team has cited the fact that Trump is campaigning against Pence for president — something Chutkan has acknowledged complicates matters.
Trump is also signaling that he will publicly call into question the testimony of cooperating witnesses by claiming they were effectively forced to say untrue things because of legal pressure — for example, “make up some really horrible ‘STUFF.’” And his comments could certainly be read to pertain not just to Meadows, but to the likes of Powell and fellow Trump-aligned lawyers Kenneth Chesebro and Jenna Ellis, who also recently cut plea deals that will require them to testify truthfully.
Trump would argue he’s just talking about a situation in which they would provide untrue testimony, but he’s inviting everyone to view those who flip against him as suspect — as “weaklings and cowards.”
It’s difficult to see how that implicit threat of public opprobrium wouldn’t weigh on these witnesses and others who might cut their own deals, which is an increasingly major subplot in the Fulton County case.
What’s apparent is that Trump isn’t going to stop doing this and will probably just keep upping the ante. The big question is when a judge might decide that, whatever the drawbacks of severely sanctioning a presidential candidate and leader of a major political party, the alternative could be even worse.
This article has been updated.