Trump shares call for ‘citizen’s arrest’ of Letitia James and his fraud trial judge

The former president’s lawsuits and criminal cases fuel threatening rhetoric against his political opponents

Alex Woodward
Tuesday 14 November 2023 20:10 GMT
Related video: Donald Jr attacks Attorney General Letitia James for ‘witch hunt’ against Trump

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The New York judge overseeing a trial targeting Donald Trump’s business empire and the state attorney general suing him for fraud have been inundated with threatening messages since the case launched last year.

The leading candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination for president has now shared a call for their arrest.

On his Truth Social platform on Tuesday, moments before the trial resumed in lower Manhattan, Mr Trump shared a post from a supporter whose “fantasy” is seeing New York Attorney General Letitia James and Judge Arthur Engoron “placed under citizens arrest” for “blatant election interference and harassment.”

He shared the post during his near-daily inflammatory screeds against Ms James and the judge, who issued a gag order prohibiting any parties in the case from making disparaging remarks about any members of the court staff. Mr Trump has already violated the gag order twice, and the judge expanded the order to include his attorneys after their comments about his chief clerk.

Judge Engoron has repeatedly stated that he is fiercely protective of his staff, particularly in light of “the threat of and actual violence resulting from heated political rhetoric,” he wrote in a court filing earlier this month.

“Since the commencement of this bench trial, my chambers have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages,” he wrote. “The First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm.”

Judge Engoron has stressed, however, that comments against him are fair game. The gag order does not prevent Mr Trump from lashing out against the judge, even in the courtroom.

While Mr Trump went on a tirade against the judge, the attorney general and the case during his in-court testimony on 6 November, Judge Engoron told him: “You can attack me, you can do whatever you want, just answer the question.”

The former president’s latest comments follow authoritarian-like campaign-trail rhetoric targeting his political opponents and perceived enemies. In a Veterans Day speech on Saturday, he vowed to “root out” the “vermin within the confines of our country,” invoking a term used by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

“The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous and grave than the threat from within,” Mr Trump went on to say. “Our threat is from within.”

A spokesman for Mr Trump later said his critics’ “entire existence will be crushed”.

Mr Trump’s latest abuse aimed at his opponents in his civil fraud case follows security concerns in his state and federal criminal trials on charges connected to his alleged attempts to overturn 2020 presidential election results.

Prosecutors have asked for gag orders and jury protections in response to Mr Trump’s inflammatory statements and his supporters’ doxxing attempts, threats and harassment targeting prosecutors, their staff and families.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis in Georgia cited fears that her case could be compromised and the defendants’ right to a fair trial “endangered” if “the identities of the jurors become known to the public” after a wave of online threats towards grand jurors who voted to indict the former president.

Mr Trump also faced a gag order in the federal election interference case prohibiting him from making statements about potential witnesses or criticising prosecutors.

A three-judge panel at a federal appeals court has temporarily paused the order. The court will hear arguments to consider a permanent removal of the order later this month.

Mr Trump continues to boost a false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from him and the criminal cases and lawsuits against him are part of a Democratic conspiracy to keep him off the ballot next year.

Millions of Americans – roughly 4.4 per cent of the nation’s adult population – believe violence is justified to keep him in the White House, according to a July report from the University of Chicago’s Project on Security & Threats research centre. Violent support for the former president surged following his first federal indictment, the report found.

A separate survey of Americans after 2022 midterm elections found that a significant percentage consider political violence – including “violence, threats, intimidation or harassment” – acceptable in certain scenarios, with roughly 20 per cent of respondents believing such violence was at least a “little” acceptable if their preferred candidate lost an election.

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