Federal prosecutors asked a judge on Wednesday to keep former President Donald J. Trump and his lawyers from claiming to the jury in his upcoming election interference trial that the case had been brought against him as a partisan attack by the Biden administration.
The move by the prosecutors was designed to keep Mr. Trump from overtly politicizing his trial and from distracting the jury with unfounded political arguments that he has often made on both the campaign trail and in court papers related to the case.
Ever since Mr. Trump was charged this summer with plotting to overturn the 2020 election, he and his lawyers have sought to frame the indictment as a retaliatory strike against him by President Biden. Mr. Trump has also placed such claims at the heart of his presidential campaign even though the charges were initially returned by a federal grand jury and are being overseen by an independent special counsel, Jack Smith.
Molly Gaston, one of Mr. Smith’s senior assistants, asked Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is handling the election case in Federal District Court in Washington, to keep Mr. Trump’s political attacks as far away from the jury as possible.
“The court should not permit the defendant to turn the courtroom into a forum in which he propagates irrelevant disinformation,” Ms. Gaston wrote, “and should reject his attempt to inject politics into this proceeding.”
The 20-page motion was filed two weeks after Judge Chutkan effectively froze the case in place as an appeals court considers Mr. Trump’s broad claims that he is immune from prosecution. Last week, the Supreme Court declined to hear the question of the immunity immediately, although the justices are likely to take up the issue after the appeals court completes its highly accelerated review.
In her motion to Judge Chutkan, Ms. Gaston acknowledged that the deadlines in the case were currently on hold because of the appeal. But she said that the special counsel’s office had nonetheless decided to abide by them “to promote the prompt resumption of the pretrial schedule” after the immunity issue is decided.
It was not the first time that Mr. Smith’s team has sought to nudge the case forward during the pause, moves that have prompted outrage from Mr. Trump’s lawyers. The former president’s legal team has often worked in the opposite direction, using every lever at its disposal to slow the case down.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers are hoping to push the case off until after the 2024 election is decided. If that were to happen and Mr. Trump were to win the race, he would have the power to simply order the charges against him to be dropped.
Ms. Gaston’s filing to Judge Chutkan was meant to shape the contours of the evidence that the jury will hear at the trial, which is scheduled to start March 4. Prosecutors have already suggested that they want to tell a sweeping story that will include Mr. Trump’s long history of making false claims about election fraud and a detailed account of the role he played in inspiring the violence that erupted at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Keeping “baseless political claims” out of the trial was clearly one of Ms. Gaston’s priorities. Mr. Trump has relentlessly sought to portray the case in Washington — in which he stands accused of plotting to reverse his defeat in the last election — as a form of election interference itself.
His lawyers, often using exaggerated language, have used court papers to make similar claims, arguing that the indictment was brought against Mr. Trump on Mr. Biden’s orders as a means to knock him out of the next presidential race.
“None of these issues goes to the defendant’s guilt or innocence,” Ms. Gaston wrote. “All of them should be excluded.”
In her filing, Ms. Gaston also asked Judge Chutkan to preclude Mr. Trump from introducing other sorts of evidence that his lawyers have said they plan to use at the trial.
The lawyers, for example, have suggested they intend to question the findings by the U.S. national security community that the 2020 election was conducted fairly. They have also indicated that they want to tell the jury that foreign governments interfered with the race.
Ms. Gaston was opposed to any of this evidence being used at the trial, calling it “an irrelevant and confusing sideshow.”
She also asked Judge Chutkan to keep Mr. Trump and his lawyers from blaming the violence at the Capitol on failures by the Capitol Police and the National Guard, or from arguing that the riot was sparked by undercover agents or informants in the crowd.
Republican lawmakers and right-wing politicians have long tried to claim that people working for the government itself provoked the mob at the Capitol to attack the building as a way to discredit Mr. Trump and his followers.
But Ms. Gaston said that any such narratives should be kept out of the trial as a waste of time and resources.
“Allowing the defendant to introduce evidence about undercover actors would inevitably lead to confusing mini-trials on collateral issues, such as the identities and intentions of the alleged undercover actors,” she wrote. “For example, it may require the government to introduce evidence to show that people whom the defendant alleges were undercover actors actually were his vehement supporters.”