Appeals court upholds gag order on Trump but narrows restrictions on his speech |

A federal appeals court in Washington largely upheld a gag order against former President Donald Trump in his 2020 election interference case, but eased restrictions on his speech.

The three-judge panel's ruling modifies the gag order to allow the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner to make disparaging comments about special counsel Jack Smith, but reimposes a ban on speech on court staff and limits what he can do. say about known or reasonably foreseeable information. witnesses to the case.

The unanimous ruling is largely a victory for Smith's team, as the judges agree with prosecutors that Trump's often inflammatory comments about participants in the case can have a detrimental practical impact and reject the defendants' claims. defense lawyers that any restriction on the former president's freedom of speech amounted to an unconstitutional gag order.

It sets new parameters for what Trump can and cannot say about the case as he prepares for a trial in March and campaigns to retake the White House.

Special Prosecutor Jack Smith (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

"Mr. Trump's documented pattern of speech and its demonstrated real-time, real-world consequences pose a significant and imminent threat to the operation of the criminal process in this case," Judge Patricia Millett wrote for the court, noting that many of The targets of Trump's verbal attacks “have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters.”

Although Trump has a constitutional right to free speech, he noted, “he does not have an unlimited right to speak.”

Still, the court moved to limit the gag order imposed in October by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, which in addition to prohibiting inflammatory comments about Smith and court staff also restricted Trump's right to attack witnesses.

The judges ruled that part of the order was overly broad, allowing Trump to speak with or about potential witnesses (including his books, interviews and political campaigns) as long as the comments did not refer to those people's possible involvement in the investigation or the trial. or about the content of any expected testimony.

"The interest in protecting witnesses from intimidation and harassment is certainly compelling, but a broad ban on speech that is disconnected from an individual's role as a witness is not necessary to protect that interest, at least on the current record." , the court wrote.

"In fact," the opinion says, "public exchanges with a reasonably foreseeable witness about the content of his upcoming book are unlikely to intimidate that witness or other potential witnesses weighing whether to come forward or testify truthfully."

donald trump
Donald Trump has denied wrongdoing (Mike Segar/Pool via AP)

In a social media post responding to the ruling, Trump said his team would appeal and complained again about restrictions on his speech.

"In other words, people can speak violently and cruelly against me, or attack me in any way, but I cannot respond in the same way," he said. “What is happening to our First Amendment, what is happening to our Country?”

Judge Chutkan, appointed by former President Barack Obama, imposed the gag order following a request from prosecutors, who cited Trump's pattern of inflammatory comments.

Prosecutors said the restrictions were necessary to protect the integrity of the case and protect potential witnesses and others involved in the case from harassment and threats inspired by Trump's incendiary social media posts.

The order has had a back-and-forth trajectory through the courts since prosecutors proposed it, and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the gag order while considering Trump's challenge.

The case accuses Trump of conspiring with his Republican allies to subvert the will of voters in a desperate bid to remain in power in the run-up to his supporters rioting on January 6, 2021. He is scheduled to go to trial in March. at the federal courthouse in Washington, a few blocks from the United States Capitol.

The special counsel separately accused Trump in Florida of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate after he left the White House following his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. The trial in that case is scheduled for next May, although the judge has indicated that the date could be postponed.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed that the cases against him are part of a politically motivated effort to prevent him from returning to the White House.

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