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Trump accused of witness threats after Meadows reportedly granted immunity

The special counsel Jack Smith accused Donald Trump of trying to “send an unmistakable and threatening message to a foreseeable witness” in the federal election interference case against him, after it was reported that Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows had been granted immunity.

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The claim from Smith came in a court filing late on Wednesday seeking a limited gag order. The judge in the case, Tanya Chutkan, issued such an order last week but suspended it when lawyers for Trump appealed.

Trump faces four federal charges related to his attempt to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden in 2020.

He also faces 13 state charges related to election subversion in Georgia; 34 charges in New York related to hush-money payments; 40 federal charges concerning his retention of classified information after leaving office; and civil threats including New York cases concerning his business affairs (a case in which Trump has been fined for violating a gag order) and an allegation of rape a judge deemed “substantially true”.

Denying all accusations of wrongdoing, Trump enjoys huge leads in national and key state polling regarding the next Republican presidential nomination.

ABC News reported the Meadows immunity grant on Tuesday. As the Guardian previously reported, Meadows appeared in March before the grand jury in the case after being forced to testify under court order. Such immunity orders typically see witnesses provide only limited statements, which the justice department promises not to use against them.

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A Trump spokesperson said: “Wrongful, unethical leaks throughout these Biden witch-hunts only underscore how detrimental these empty cases are to our democracy and system of justice and how vital it is for President Trump’s first amendment rights to not be infringed upon by un-constitutional gag orders.”

But Trump himself used Truth Social, the platform he set up after being thrown off Twitter for inciting the January 6 attack on Congress, to address the Meadows story.

“I don’t think Mark Meadows would lie about the Rigged and Stollen [sic] 2020 Presidential Election merely for getting IMMUNITY against Prosecution (PERSECUTION!) by Deranged Prosecutor, Jack Smith,” Trump wrote, in typically idiosyncratic style.

“BUT, when you really think about it, after being hounded like a dog for three years, told you’ll be going to jail for the rest of your life, your money and your family will be forever gone, and we’re not at all interested in exposing those that did the RIGGING – If you say BAD THINGS about that terrible ‘MONSTER’, DONALD J TRUMP, we won’t put you in prison, you can keep your family and your wealth, and, perhaps, if you can make up some really horrible ‘STUFF’ a[b]out him, we may very well erect a statue of you in the middle of our decaying and now very violent Capital, Washington DC.

“Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future our Failing Nation. I don’t think that Mark Meadows is one of them, but who really knows?”

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As special counsel, Smith was appointed by but operates independently of Merrick Garland, the US attorney general. Trump has regularly claimed political persecution by Garland and Smith, supposedly at the direction of Biden.

In their court filing on Tuesday, lawyers for Smith said a gag order needed to be reinstated in the federal election interference case because Trump “has a demonstrated history of using inflammatory language to target certain individuals in a way that pose[s] a significant and immediate risk that witnesses will be intimidated or otherwise unduly influenced by the prospect of being themselves targeted for harassment or threats; and attorneys, public servants, and other court staff will themselves become targets for threats and harassment”.

Trump, the filing said, had “capitalised on the court’s administrative stay to, among other prejudicial conduct, send an unmistakable and threatening message to a foreseeable witness in this case”.

On Wednesday, Jonathan Turley, a conservative George Washington University law professor who has appeared as a witness for House Republicans considering impeaching Biden, called Smith’s gag order filing unconstitutional, adding: “Smith is, again, dismissing free speech concerns.”

Looking to the Republican primary and perhaps the presidential election beyond, Turley said voters would “have to weigh the merits of these charges and the veracity of witnesses. The gag on Trump will not diminish that chatter and debate.”