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Trump’s lawyers want special counsel Jack Smith held in contempt in 2020 election interference case

Former US President’s attorneys say the prosecutors turned over to the defense thousands of pages of evidence and an exhibit list while the case was paused

Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, December 19, 2023.SCOTT MORGAN (REUTERS)

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump on Thursday pressed to have special counsel Jack Smith’s team held in contempt, saying the prosecutors had taken steps to advance the 2020 election interference case against him in violation of a judge’s order last month that temporarily put the case on hold.

Citing “outrageous conduct,” the Republican presidential candidate’s attorneys told U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington, D.C., that she should consider holding Smith and two of his prosecutors in contempt for turning over to the defense thousands of pages of evidence and an exhibit list while the case was paused and for filing more than a week later a motion that they said “teems with partisan rhetoric” and “false claims.”

“In this manner, the prosecutors seek to weaponize the Stay to spread political propaganda, knowing that President Trump would not fully respond because the Court relieved him of the burdens of litigation during the Stay,” the lawyers wrote. “Worse, the prosecutors have announced their intention to continue this partisan-driven misconduct indefinitely, effectively converting this Court’s docket into an arm of the Biden Campaign.”

A spokesman for Smith declined to comment on the motion. The motion says that Trump’s lawyers have conferred with prosecutors, who object to the sanctions request.

The contempt motion lays bare the simmering tension between prosecutors and defense lawyers in the landmark case charging Trump with scheming to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. It also highlights the stark division between the Smith team’s desire to keep the case on track for a March 4 trial date and Trump’s efforts to delay the prosecution, until potentially after the November election, in which Trump is the Republican front-runner.

At issue is a Dec. 13 order from Chutkan issued after Trump appealed to a higher court an earlier ruling that rejected his claims that he is immune from prosecution.

In her order last month, Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, said that Trump’s appeal “automatically stays any further proceedings that would move this case towards trial or impose additional burdens of litigation” on Trump.

Chutkan’s order suggested that requiring additional discovery or briefing would impose a burden on Trump. However, it does not appear to explicitly bar the filing of court papers or prohibit prosecutors from providing information to the defense.

Prosecutors acknowledged in a filing late last month that the case had been paused, but they said the government would “continue to meet its own deadlines as previously determined” by the court “to promote the prompt resumption of the pretrial schedule” if and when the case returns to Chutkan.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is set to hear arguments on Tuesday on the immunity question and has signaled that it intends to move quickly, though additional appeals are still likely after that. The arguments are crucial because they concern the legally untested question of whether a former president is immune from prosecution and because the outcome is expected to help determine the fate and timing of the case.

The defense motion says Smith’s team should be punished for nudging the case forward during the pause by producing nearly 4,000 pages of potential evidence. The defense lawyers also objected to a Smith team motion last month arguing that Trump should be prevented from “raising irrelevant political issues or arguments in front of the jury,” including that the prosecution against him is vindictive and selective or was coordinated by Biden, who was Obama’s vice president.

Besides sanctions and contempt, Trump’s lawyers are asking the court to require prosecutors to get permission from the court before submitting any further filings. The defense wants prosecutors to reimburse Trump for attorneys’ fees and other expenses “that he has incurred responding to the prosecutor’s improper productions and filings.”

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