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A gag order preventing Donald Trump from making negative remarks about witnesses involved in his election conspiracy case has been upheld by a federal appeals court.
In October, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan issued a gag order preventing the ex-president from engaging in a “pretrial smear campaign” while he pursues the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
The judges of the federal appeals court in Washington DC have concurred that several of Mr. Trump’s remarks create a serious and immediate risk to the fair and organized handling of the current criminal case, which justifies placing a restraining order on his speech. However, they also stated that the original order restricts more protected speech than is required.
The lawyers for Mr. Trump claimed that the order violates his First Amendment rights as he fights against multiple lawsuits and four criminal trials, which include accusations of trying to unlawfully overturn the outcome of the 2020 election.
The decision made on Friday by the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC restricts Mr Trump, his associates, and their lawyers from publicly discussing known or expected witnesses.
It also blocks parties from making public statements about attorneys, members of the court staff and family members “if those statements are made with the intent to materially interfere with, or to cause others to materially interfere with, counsel’s or staff’s work in this criminal case, or with the knowledge that such interference is highly likely to result.”
The decision from the appeals court permits Mr. Trump to continue criticizing Jack Smith, the special counsel for the US Department of Justice who has been a frequent subject of the former president’s criticism.
Judge Patricia Millett, on behalf of the three-judge panel, stated in their decision on Friday that they did not make this order without careful consideration.
According to the order, Mr. Trump, who is both a former President and current presidential candidate, has a significant impact on the public’s interest with his words. However, he is also facing criminal charges and must go through the same legal procedures as any other defendant. This exemplifies the principle of the rule of law.
During the hearing last month, the appellate judges expressed doubt about the arguments presented by Mr. Trump’s attorneys. The Justice Department attorneys contended that Mr. Trump has a habit of using his public platform to attack his adversaries through inflammatory and derogatory language, targeting not only his political rivals but also the judges presiding over his cases and the prosecutors challenging him, as well as their family members.
“The situation puts public officials in a difficult position of having to weigh the consequences of handling such cases, with the added concern of potential harm to themselves and their loved ones,” expressed Justice Department lawyer Cecil VanDevender during last month’s court session. “The looming possibility of harm to one’s family can have a chilling effect and taint the entire legal process. How likely is one to resign if their family is threatened with violence?”
According to a recent court document, Mr. Smith’s team stated that this is a recurring occurrence over the years where individuals publicly singled out by Mr. Trump are subjected to harassment, threats, and intimidation.
The previous leader intends to exploit this well-known pattern for his benefit, as stated in the document. This trend has persisted without interruption as this specific case and other unrelated cases involving the defendant have moved forward.
The attempts of Mr. Trump to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election resulted in a 45-page indictment by a grand jury, filing four criminal charges. The indictment accuses him of orchestrating a scheme across multiple states, based on a history of false claims and conspiracy theories, in an effort to undermine the democratic process. A trial is tentatively set for March 2024.
The New York appeals court has denied Mr Trump’s efforts to reverse a gag order in a separate civil fraud case in Manhattan. The ongoing trial, now in its 11th week, poses a risk to his family’s business and extensive real estate empire.
The state appeals court denied his request for an expedited appeal on Monday, just days before he is expected to testify again. This means that Mr. Trump will still be subject to the gag order during the remainder of his defense team’s presentations.