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Trump lawyers urge judge in hush-money case not to 'muzzle' their client

Attorneys for the former president said in a new filing that the Manhattan DA's request regarding what Trump can say about the case outside the courtroom was too restrictive.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., on March 4.Alex Brandon / AP file

Lawyers for Donald Trump argued Monday that the Manhattan district attorney’s proposal to prohibit the former president from talking about the evidence and witnesses in the criminal case against him was “extremely restrictive” and could unfairly affect his presidential campaign.

In a new court filing, Trump's attorneys criticized the proposed protective order, which asked the judge to prevent him from publicly discussing some of the evidence.

"The People have proposed what would be an unprecedented and extraordinarily broad muzzle on a leading contender for the presidency of the United States," Trump attorneys Susan Necheles, Joe Tacopina and Todd Blanche wrote to New York state Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the case.

“The People’s Proposed Protective Order infringes upon President Trump’s First Amendment right to freely discuss his own character and qualifications for federal office and the First Amendment rights of the American people to hear President Trump’s side of the story,” it said.

The filing is in response to a motion last week from prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office who are seeking to bar Trump from publicly disclosing evidence that is due to be turned over to his defense team as the case moves toward trial next year.

The filing by Assistant District Attorney Catherine McCaw argued that “safeguards that will protect the integrity of the materials” are necessary because the “risk” that Trump would use them “inappropriately is substantial.” She asked the judge to ensure that the defense could use discovery materials only for trial purposes and that Trump view the evidence only in the presence of his lawyers.

McCaw cited Trump’s record of speaking out against witnesses, investigators and court officials involved in the swirling probes in his orbit.

“Donald J. Trump has a longstanding and perhaps singular history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, trial jurors, grand jurors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him, putting those individuals and their families at considerable safety risk,” McCaw wrote.

She pointed to Trump’s attacks against his former personal attorney Michael Cohen as one such example. Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the DA’s case, which involves hush money payments Cohen was involved with.

Adult film star Stormy Daniels, another witness Trump has criticized, received some of the payments. Trump has denied her claim that they slept together and called her insulting names.

Monday's court filing said both Cohen and Daniels have criticized Trump and discussed the evidence publicly for years.

"For example, in one of Michael Cohen’s books, he repeatedly calls President Trump disparaging names, including stating that President Trump was 'a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.' Stormy Daniels also engages in extensive name calling and belittling of President Trump in the book she published," the filing said.

Trump's attorneys also argued that the proposed protective order was a one-way street, restricting the defense from discussing the evidence publicly while not similarly limiting prosecutors or witnesses, such as Cohen and Daniels.

"Surprisingly, the People apparently believe that New York law allows the District Attorney’s Office and its witnesses to freely speak and quote from grand jury evidence, but not President Trump or his counsel," the defense attorneys wrote.

Trump was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records last month and pleaded not guilty. He maintains his indictment — the first of a former president — is the result of a politically motivated “witch hunt” by Bragg, a Democrat. Trump has also accused Bragg, who is Black, of being a “racist” for investigating him.

Trump's lawyers argued Monday for a scaled-down version of the proposed protective order while suggesting it was not really necessary.

"Notably, even though the People refer to numerous investigations into, and lawsuits against, President Trump, they fail to point to even one instance where President Trump has misused discovery that was obtained by him or his lawyers. Rather, the People claim 'good cause' exists for their extreme proposed protective order because President Trump has a purported history of calling other people names," they contended.

The DA’s office declined to comment on the filing.

The filing did not mention the surge in death threats against Bragg since Trump started complaining about him or the threats against others who have been targets of Trump's wrath on social media.

In her filing last week, McCaw noted that prosecutors were not seeking a gag order — they just wanted to make sure Trump did not misuse their evidence.

“Defendant has a constitutional right to speak publicly about this case, and the People do not seek to infringe upon that right,” she wrote.