Trump gag order upheld, but narrowed, in DC election case

Trump gag order upheld, but narrowed, in DC election case

Former US President Donald Trump looks on during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization, at the New York State Supreme Court in New York City on December 7, 2023.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AFP | Getty Images

A federal appeals court Friday upheld, but narrowed, the gag order imposed on former President Donald Trump in his criminal election interference case in Washington, D.C.

Trump and others in the case are still restricted from making public statements about “known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding.”

They are also barred from making statements about various parties affiliated with the case, or their family members, if those statements are meant to “materially interfere” with their work in the case.

But Trump can resume speaking about special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the office prosecuting the former president in the D.C. case and another federal criminal case in Florida.

“We do not allow such an order lightly,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote for a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“Mr. Trump is a former President and current candidate for the presidency, and there is a strong public interest in what he has to say. But Mr. Trump is also an indicted criminal defendant, and he must stand trial in a courtroom under the same procedures that govern all other criminal defendants. That is what the rule of law means,” Millett wrote.

The appellate ruling vacates the original gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in the case accusing Trump of illegally conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“Today, the D.C. Circuit Court panel, with each judge appointed by a Democrat President, determined that a huge part of Judge Chutkan’s extraordinarily overbroad gag order was unconstitutional,” Trump spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement.

Trump will “continue to fight for the First Amendment rights of tens of millions of Americans to hear from the leading Presidential candidate at the height of his campaign,” Cheung’s statement said.

A spokesman for Smith declined to comment.

Smith had asked Chutkan in September to gag Trump, arguing that his frequent, aggressively critical statements about various parties in the case threatened to undermine its integrity and affect the jury pool.

Chutkan in mid-October granted much of that request. Her initial order barred Trump from statements targeting Smith and his staff, as well as court personnel and “any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony.”

Trump has claimed that the gag order efforts are an attempt to silence him and harm his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. His lawyers promptly appealed Chutkan’s order.

In Friday’s ruling, the appellate panel found that parts of Chutkan’s gag order were overly prohibitive.

“By broadly proscribing any statements about or directed to the Special Counsel and the court’s and counsel’s staffs, as well as reasonably foreseeable witnesses or their testimony, the Order sweeps too broadly,” Millett wrote.

She later added that Chutkan’s order went “too far” by blocking relevant parties from making or directing others to make public statements that target prosecutors or court staff.

But the panel nevertheless held that “some aspects” of Trump’s speech “pose a significant and imminent risk to the fair and orderly adjudication of this criminal proceeding, which justified protective action by the district court.”