Judge Chutkan faces a tough choice with Donald Trump

The judge in Donald Trump’s federal election tampering trial may have to reimpose a gag order after he openly discussed a potential key witness over the weekend.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington temporarily suspended the gag order on Friday.

In a post on the social media site, Truth Social, on Sunday, Trump continued to claim that the 2020 election was stolen, while also commenting on attorney Sidney Powell, his co-defendant in the Georgia election tampering case. Powell, who attended the Oval Office meetings, took a plea deal in the Georgia case last week and may now have to testify in Atlanta against Trump and others. She may also be called as a witness in the federal case overseen by Chutkan.

Donald Trump addresses the media outside his civil fraud trial in New York on October 17, 2023 as he complains about a partial gag order imposed on him by Washington Judge Tanya Chutkan in the federal election fraud case. Chutkan will hear legal arguments this week on whether to reimpose the order. (Photo by Alex Kent / AFP) (Photo by ALEX KENT / AFP via Getty Images)
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“Sydney Powell was one of the millions and millions of people who thought, and in increasing numbers still think, correctly, that the 2020 presidential election was SMASHED AND STOLEN AND OUR COUNTRY IS ABSOLUTELY DESTROYED BECAUSE OF IT!!!” Trump wrote on Truth Social on Sunday.

“Despite fake news reports to the contrary, and without even reaching out to ask the Trump campaign, MISS POWELL WAS NOT MY LAWYER AND NEVER WAS,” he said at the time.

The former president and front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination has pleaded not guilty to all charges in both the federal and Georgia cases.

Chutkan is scheduled to hear from Trump’s prosecutors and lawyers this week on whether to stay the gag order for a longer period while Trump appeals it to a higher federal court.

Legal analyst Lisa Rubin wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday that Trump’s post on Truth Social puts Chutkan in a difficult position because Powell is a “potential witness” in the federal case against Trump for alleged election manipulation.

“Given what could be considered a breach of the stay order now, what does she do next? Lifting the administrative stay and denying a longer stay pending appeal before she’s even heard from the special counsel?

“I’m waiting for [special counsel] Jack Smith’s team to complain about the Powell post?

“Whatever path she takes, it seems increasingly unlikely to me that Chutkan will simply let Trump’s statements about Powell lie throughout this week and until she is ready to issue a written opinion on his request to stay,” Rubin wrote.

Chutkan gave the Justice Department until Wednesday to respond to Trump’s request for a longer hold on the gag order and gave Trump’s legal team until next Saturday to respond.

Trump is already appealing the gag order to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and in a 33-page letter Friday, his lawyers urged Chutkan to put the order on hold while the appeal is heard.

The order, which was limited in scope, prohibited Trump from making certain types of statements about the special counsel’s team or potential witnesses, including any comments that are directed directly at court personnel, potential witnesses or the special counsel and his staff.

Powell struck a deal with Fulton County prosecutors last Thursday, agreeing to cooperate with the investigation in exchange for a six-year suspended sentence, a $6,000 fine and a written apology to Georgia residents.

Former Trump lawyer Kenneth Chesebro took a plea deal in the Georgia case on Friday when he pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to file false documents. As part of the deal, he will have to testify at future trials.