Federal prosecutors pushed back on Friday night against former President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to hold them in contempt of court for continuing to file motions while the case accusing him of plotting to overturn the 2020 election is paused.
The filing by the prosecutors, who work for the special counsel, Jack Smith, was the latest salvo in a tit-for-tat battle over the unusual freeze in the election interference case, which is central to the government’s attempts to hold Mr. Trump accountable for seeking to reverse his electoral defeat to Joseph R. Biden Jr.
In a brief set of court papers, Mr. Smith’s team acknowledged that the election interference case had been placed on hold while Mr. Trump seeks to have the underlying charges dismissed with broad claims that he is immune to the indictment. But the prosecutors said that they were nonetheless continuing to “voluntarily” file motions and turn over discovery materials to Mr. Trump’s lawyers, explaining that the steps they were taking “impose no requirements” on the former president.
“Nothing here requires any action by the defendant,” the prosecutors wrote, “and he fails to explain how the mere receipt of discovery materials that he is not obligated to review, or the early filing of government pleadings to which he does not yet need to respond, possibly burdens him.”
The skirmish is part of a wider struggle over timing that could determine whether the case goes to trial before the November election or, if Mr. Trump regains the presidency, whether it is ultimately tried at all. At every instance, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have pushed for delays, while Mr. Smith has sought to move the case along, arguing that the public has an abiding interest in a speedy trial.
The fight began last month when Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is overseeing the case in Federal District Court in Washington, put its proceedings on hold as Mr. Trump pressed an attack on the indictment by claiming that he was immune to it because it arose from actions he took while in the White House.
His claims about immunity, which could have a significant impact on both the viability and timing of the case, are scheduled to be heard on Tuesday by a federal appeals court in Washington. They are also likely at some point to make their way to the Supreme Court.
Concerned that Mr. Trump’s appeal of the immunity issue could delay the trial, which is set to begin in early March, Mr. Smith’s prosecutors have, in recent weeks, gently attempted to nudge the case forward.
A few days after Judge Chutkan’s stay order was imposed, they informed her that they had sent Mr. Trump’s legal team a draft list of exhibits that they intend to use at the trial and thousands of pages of additional discovery materials.
Then, two days after Christmas, they filed a memo asking Judge Chutkan to bar Mr. Trump from making “baseless political claims” or introducing “irrelevant disinformation” at the trial.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers were outraged by the filing and the production of discovery materials, accusing Mr. Smith and two of his top deputies, Thomas P. Windom and Molly Gaston, of “partisan-driven misconduct.” In a filing to Judge Chutkan on Thursday, the lawyers said Mr. Smith’s team was treating her order putting the case on hold as “merely a suggestion meaning less than the paper it is written on.”
The lawyers asked for a series of severe consequences, starting with an order that would force Mr. Smith and his deputies to explain why they should not be held in contempt and be made to pay whatever legal fees Mr. Trump may have incurred by dealing with their recent filings and productions.
The lawyers also asked Judge Chutkan to force the prosecutors to tell her why they should not be made to “immediately withdraw” the last motion they filed and be “forbidden from submitting any further filing” without express permission.
Prosecutors rebuffed those arguments in their filing on Friday night.
“The government has not violated — and never intentionally would violate — an order of the court, and the defendant’s recycled allegations of partisanship and prosecutorial misconduct remain baseless,” they wrote.