Prosecutors in the upcoming trial of accused drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera have asked the judge to prohibit defense lawyers from referencing recent comments from President Donald Trump criticizing the use of “flippers,” or cooperating witnesses.
At Guzmán’s scheduled November trial, prosecutors are expected to rely heavily on informants. In a 97-page motion filed Friday on pretrial evidentiary issues, prosecutors didn’t name Trump but made an unmistakable reference to the president's August criticisms of cooperation after Michael Cohen’s guilty plea to campaign finance crimes.
“A government official’s recent comments in which he criticized cooperating witnesses in a wholly separate investigation, calling them 'flippers' whose use probably should be illegal, have been highly publicized,” prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn.
“The government requests that the Court preclude the defense from referring to those comments during argument or questioning of witnesses,” they added. “These statements have no bearing on the facts at issue in this case or the particular cooperating witnesses that the government expects to call at trial.”
Trump — in the wake of last month's guilty plea by Cohen, his former personal lawyer, and the conviction of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort on tax and bank fraud — had complained that turning witnesses to cooperate with prosecutors "almost ought to be illegal."
"I know all about flipping," the president said in a Fox News interview in August. "For 30, 40 years I've been watching flippers. Everything's wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go."
The issue first came up in federal court in Manhattan in August, when a defense lawyer in an unrelated drug case tried to raise Trump’s comments to cast doubt on the credibility of government informants during closing arguments. The judge in that case prohibited the lawyer's argument.
A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment on the government motion.
Guzmán lawyer Eduardo Balarezo said he didn’t dispute limits on bringing up Trump’s remarks, but said the word “flippers” and criticism of cooperating witnesses should be fair game.
“We understand the limits of the rules of evidence,” Balarezo said. “However, the cooperator’s credibility is inherently in question, and we intend to point that out to the jury.”