Donald Trump’s lawyers asked a federal judge on Friday to lift a narrow gag order imposed on him in his 2020 election interference case while the former president pursues a challenge to the ruling aimed at reining in his incendiary rhetoric.
Trump’s legal team wants U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to pause her gag order ruling issued earlier this week, pending review by higher courts. Trump’s lawyers said they will seek an emergency stay from the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit if Chutkan denies their request.
Chutkan’s order bars the Republican from making statements targeting prosecutors, potential witnesses and court staff.
Trump’s lawyers, who quickly appealed the ruling to the D.C. Circuit Court, said in court papers Friday that Trump is likely to succeed in his challenge to the gag order because it is “unsupported by evidence and violates the First Amendment’s most basic precepts.”
It’s the first issue in the case to land in an appeals court, which will decide whether Chutkan went too far in limiting the speech of the GOP presidential primary front-runner over concerns that his online attacks could inspire violence.
In her ruling, Chutkan said Trump is allowed to criticize the Justice Department generally and assert his claims of innocence and his claims that the case is politically motivated. But she said his statements smearing prosecutors and likely witnesses have crossed a line and could spur his supporters to threaten or harass his targets.
It’s the most serious restriction a court has placed on Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, which has become a centerpiece of his grievance-filled campaign to return to the White House. At rallies and in social media posts, Trump has sought to vilify special counsel Jack Smith and others, casting himself as the victim of a politicized justice system working to deny him another term.
Trump has decried the order as unconstitutional, and has used it to amplify his claims that he is being politically persecuted. The former president has denied any wrongdoing in the case charging him with illegally scheming to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Prosecutors said Trump’s litany of attacks was already having consequences. They noted that a top prosecutor on Smith’s team received intimidating communications after being singled out by Trump, and a Texas woman was charged in August with making racist death threats against Chutkan, who is of Black and Asian descent, in a phone message left at her chambers.
It’s the second gag order imposed on Trump in the last month. The judge overseeing Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York earlier this month issued a more limited gag order prohibiting personal attacks against court personnel following a social media post from Trump that maligned the judge’s principal clerk.
Trump was fined $5,000 on Friday after his disparaging post lingered on his campaign website for weeks after the judge ordered it deleted. Judge Arthur Engoron avoided holding Trump in contempt for now, but reserved the right to do so — and possibly even put the ex-president in jail — if he again violates the limited gag order.
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