It's not too often that you get politics mixed in with a song by Anthrax, but then, most politics-writers haven't seen that band in concert on five different occasions. Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan handled her first hearing in the Donald Trump 1/6 case, and she left no doubts as to who was in charge.
Note that "I am in charge here" is not the same as "I am unfair." Chutkan had strong words for both sides of the case, holding the feet of Jack Smith and his team to the coals more than once. That said, she also made clear that while she is mindful that Donald Trump is a candidate for political office, that does not mean that justice can be pushed by the wayside. "The fact that he's running a political campaign has to yield to the orderly administration of justice," she remarked.
The single biggest problem before Chutkan, at the moment, is Trump's tendency to run his mouth (or, in the case of social media, his fingers). On one hand, judges don't particularly like to incarcerate defendants prematurely. That's particularly true when doing so could, you know, lead to rioting in the streets. On the other hand, Chutkan needs to make sure that Trump remains reined in, and that he does not try to use his sizable platform to influence jurors/witnesses or to make public information that should stay private.
The Judge navigated this little problem rather deftly. We don't know if she's dealt with this issue before, or if she learned from someone else who's dealt with it, or if she just came up with the solution for this particular case. However, what she did was warn Trump's counsel (he wasn't present) that if he doesn't keep his lip zipped, it will force her to speed up the timeline for the trial. Her exact words:
Even arguably ambiguous statements from parties or their counsel, if they can be reasonably interpreted to intimidate witnesses or to prejudice potential jurors, can threaten the process. The more a party makes inflammatory statements about this case which could taint the jury pool... the greater the urgency will be that we proceed to trial quickly.
It is entirely possible that if the penalty was imprisonment, Trump might keep flapping his gums, daring the Judge to do something about it. But speeding up the trial is something he might fear even more than he fears a trip to the hoosegow. Further, punishing him with a tighter timeline would make it much harder for him to play the martyr card. In short, it was a pretty masterful move from Chutkan, and if anything is going to get Trump to act like a grown-up, this is surely it.
Otherwise, the Judge and the lawyers hammered out the terms by which Trump and his team will be allowed to review the evidence to be used against the president. The government is ready to start turning over documents immediately, and will begin doing so in short order. The total is a staggering 11.6 million pages. Do you know how many bathrooms it takes to store that many?
Anyhow, a tone has been set, and Team Trump should have a very clear understanding of who is calling the shots here (Hint: not the former president). The next hearing is scheduled for Aug. 28; at that time Chutkan might well set a trial date. (Z)