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Trump lawyers urge court to hold special counsel in contempt

In World
January 04, 2024

Washington — Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Thursday urged the federal district court in Washington to consider holding special counsel Jack Smith in contempt for allegedly violating an order halting all proceedings in the case involving the 2020 presidential election while Trump pursues an appeal involving the issue of presidential immunity.

File: Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

File: Special counsel Jack Smith speaks to reporters Friday, June 9, 2023, in Washington, D.C. / Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Lawyers Todd Blanche and John Lauro accused Smith and two prosecutors on his team of ignoring U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s order and continuing to submit filings in the case, which centers around Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Chutkan last month agreed to temporarily pause the proceedings while Trump appeals her decision denying him broad immunity from federal prosecution and allowing the case against him to move forward. The federal appeals court in Washington is scheduled to hear arguments on the immunity matter Tuesday.

The judge’s order last month specifically “held in abeyance” all deadlines for pretrial proceedings and filings ahead of Trump’s upcoming criminal trial, currently set for March 4, noting she no longer had jurisdiction over the case as the appeal moved forward.

“If jurisdiction is returned to this court, it will—consistent with its duty to ensure both a speedy trial and fairness for all parties—consider at that time whether to retain or continue the dates of any still-future deadlines and proceedings, including the trial scheduled for March 4, 2024,” Chutkan wrote.

Trump’s lawyers called Smith’s continued filing of court papers “outrageous conduct,” and said the special counsel should be forced to withdraw a Dec. 27 motion and other “improper” productions. They also suggested the court require federal prosecutors to obtain permission before submitting any filings while proceedings remain on hold and demand Smith reimburse Trump for attorneys’ fees and other expenses incurred responding to the submissions.

“The court cannot allow the prosecutors to continue to operate lawlessly, in defiance of well-established protocol and this court’s authority,” the defense team wrote in the request submitted Thursday. “The Requested Sanctions are appropriate and likely to deter any further transgressions, and if not, the court retains the ability to impose more severe sanctions, including dismissal of this action.”

Following Chutkan’s order staying the case and pausing trial deadlines, Smith’s team said in court documents that it had provided Trump’s defense team with a copy of a draft exhibit list and later filed a motion asking the judge to prohibit Trump’s attorneys from “improperly inject[ing] politics into the trial.”

In both filings, prosecutors in Smith’s office noted that while the trial deadlines were paused, they continued to make submissions.

“To provide the Court and defendant notice and to promote the prompt resumption of the pretrial schedule if and when the mandate returns, the Government will continue to meet its own deadlines as previously determined by the Court,” the special counsel wrote last month.

Smith’s office declined to comment on Trump’s motion.

Former federal prosecutor Scott Fredericksen said that while Trump’s team has a “legitimate point” in highlighting that filings should have stopped, “there does not appear to be any explicit prohibition against filings while on appeal.”

Fredericksen said the usual practice is not to file anything until an appeal like that of the immunity question is resolved, but noted “the filings by Smith don’t ask the court to do anything that would somehow affect the appeal.”

According to Fredericksen, the bottom line is that Smith’s filings are “not consistent” with normal practices, but the power lies with Chutkan to decide how to move forward.

Trump is charged with four counts related to his alleged attempt to prevent the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election. He has pleaded not guilty and has accused Smith of pursuing a politically motivated prosecution aimed at President Biden’s likely opponent in the 2024 presidential race. Trump currently leads the field of Republicans vying for the party’s nomination.

In their 15-page filing with the district court, Trump’s lawyers said Chutkan’s stay order was “straightforward” and allowed only for the enforcement of existing orders, such as a protective order governing the handling of sensitive material in the case.

But the special counsel violated that order at least three times in two weeks, Blanche and Lauro argued, conduct they called “malignant” and designed to “score cheap political points against President Trump on behalf of the Biden campaign.”

The White House has repeatedly declined to comment on Smith’s work. Attorney General Merrick Garland has stressed that the Justice Department does not take orders from Mr. Biden and operates independently of the White House.

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