Judge denies Trump's request to hold Jack Smith in contempt in federal 2020 election case

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives at a campaign event in Portsmouth, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal judge overseeing the 2020 election interference case against Donald Trump on Thursday rejected his lawyers' bid to hold special counsel Jack Smith's team in contempt for actions prosecutors took after the judge put the case on hold. But the judge said no further “substantive” court filings should be submitted without permission.

The former president's lawyers had accused prosecutors of “outrageous conduct” for turning over to the defense thousands of pages of evidence and filing a motion after the judge paused the case while Trump appeals his presidential immunity claim. The defense said prosecutors were violating a court order that put the case on hold so Trump can pursue his claim in higher courts.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said in her ruling Thursday that her Dec. 13 order pausing the case did not “clearly and unambiguously” prohibit those actions by Smith’s team. However, she agreed with Trump to bar all parties in the case from filing “any further substantive pretrial motions” without first seeking permission from the court until the pause is lifted.

At issue was the order from Chutkan after Trump appealed to a higher court an earlier ruling that rejected his claims that he is immune from prosecution. In her order, 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.

The trial is currently scheduled to begin March 4 in Washington's federal court, but is likely to be postponed as Trump's immunity claim winds through higher courts. A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Washington heard arguments on the issue last week and could issue its ruling any day.

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.

The case accusing Trump of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden is one of four criminal cases the Republican is facing as he vies to return to the White House this year.