Trump lawyers dismiss death threats as ‘irrelevant’ to federal gag order

Prosecutors warned judges about his fraud trial threats. His attorneys called it ‘irrelevant information’

Alex Woodward
Friday 24 November 2023 20:54 GMT
Trump brags Taliban leader was 'nice to him'

Donald Trump’s supporters unleashed a wave of death threats and antisemitic and homophobic messages to the judge overseeing his fraud trial, as well as his chief clerk, according to a state court filing this week.

A filing to support New York Justice Arthur Engoron’s opposition to a freeze on a gag order in the case includes a statement from the court’s top security official, who has collected “hundreds of threats, disparaging and harassing comments and antisemitic messages” that followed the former president’s harassment.

Federal prosecutors – who are seeking a separate gag order – shared those threats with the federal appeals court judges who will decide whether Mr Trump should be gagged in his election interference case.

But on Friday, the former president’s attorneys dismissed those threats as “irrelevant”.

The filing in defence of Mr Trump follows a growing number of warnings from judges, prosecutors and officials tracking the increasingly volatile rhetoric coming from the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2024.

Mr Trump’s attorneys appear unconvinced. They called the latest filing from US Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith “an impermissible attempt to supplement the record on appeal with irrelevant information that could have been, but was not, submitted to the district court below.”

“To date, the prosecution has never submitted any evidence of alleged ‘threats’ or ‘harassment’ to any prosecutor, court staffer, or potential witness in this case,” according to the letter from Mr Trump’s attorneys.

“This falls short of the ‘solidity of evidence’ required to justify a prior restraint,” they argue.

A gag order in Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York prohibited all parties in the case from making disparaging remarks towards the judge’s staff, including his principal law clerk. A state appeals court judge paused the order earlier this month.

Since then, Mr Trump has posted about clerk Allison Greenfield at least four times on his Truth Social account, including a “Happy Thanksgiving” message smearing her as “politically biased” and a “corrupt campaign finance violator.”

Judge Engoron issued the first-ever gag order impacting Mr Trump after he made a series of false and derogatory claims about Ms Greenfield. He then violated the order twice, incurring $15,000 in fines.

On 16 November, a state appeals court judge paused the order, “considering the constitutional and statutory rights at issue”.

New York Justice Arthur Engoron (REUTERS)

Earlier this month, Judge Engoron shot down what he called “unpersuasive” First Amendment arguments from Mr Trump’s attorneys against his gag orders, pointing to threats of political violence that have surrounded the former president’s criminal and civil cases since his first indictment earlier this year.

“The threat of, and actual, violence resulting from heated political rhetoric is well-documented,” Judge Engoron wrote.

He said his chambers “have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages.”

This week, lawyers for Judge Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James offered a glimpse of the threatening messages the judge’s office has received.

The threats against the judge and his chief clerk are “serious and credible and not hypothetical or speculative,” according to the filing from Charles Hollon, an officer-captain with the court’s Department of Public Safety assigned to a judicial threats unit.

Transcriptions of threatening voicemails after Mr Trump first targeted Judge Engoron’s chief clerk fill more than 275 single-spaced pages, he wrote.

Donald Trump appears on the witness stand in his civil fraud trial in New York on 6 November. (REUTERS)

During a hearing on Monday, a three-judge federal appeals court panel appeared sceptical of arguments from Mr Trump’s legal team hoping to overturn a gag order that blocks him from attacking witnesses and prosecutors in the criminal conspiracy case.

The judges appeared likely to keep a narrow version of the gag order in place while trying to balance First Amendment protections with the wave of threats and harassment unleashed by his supporters.

Last week, Mr Smith’s team described that dynamic as “part of a pattern, stretching back years, in which people publicly targeted” by Mr Trump are “subject to harassment, threats, and intimidation.”

Mr Trump “seeks to use this well-known dynamic to his advantage,” according to a court filing, and “it has continued unabated as this case and other unrelated cases involving the defendant have progressed.”

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