US appeals court upholds most of gag order imposed on Trump
WASHINGTON, Dec 9, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - A US federal appeals court on Friday upheld most of a gag order imposed on former president Donald Trump in his election interference case.
"We do not allow such an order lightly," said Judge Patricia Millett, who wrote the unanimous opinion issued by a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC 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," Millett said.
"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."
The appeals court slightly narrowed the gag order issued by the district court judge who will preside over Trump's trial for allegedly conspiring to overturn the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
Judge Tanya Chutkan had barred Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, from publicly attacking the special counsel who brought the historic case against him, other prosecutors, court staff or potential witnesses ahead of his March trial.
The appeals court removed the gag order on Trump making comments about Jack Smith, the special counsel, but barred him from publicly attacking potential witnesses, other prosecutors, court staff or their family members.
"Mr. Trump is free to make statements criticizing the current administration, the Department of Justice, and the Special Counsel, as well as statements that this prosecution is politically motivated or that he is innocent of the charges against him," Millett said.
Trump has repeatedly called Smith "deranged" and attacked his colleagues as "thugs," while publicly accusing Chutkan of being biased against him.
- 'Threats and intimidation' -
Arguing against the gag order, Trump's lawyers said it was unconstitutional and runs counter to First Amendment protections guaranteeing free speech.
The appeals court said it recognized the importance of the First Amendment but "many of former President Trump's public statements attacking witnesses, trial participants, and court staff pose a danger to the integrity of these criminal proceedings."
"Former President Trump's words have real-world consequences," Millett wrote. "Many of those on the receiving end of his attacks pertaining to the 2020 election have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters."
Trump condemned the appeals court ruling in a post on his Truth Social platform.
"People can speak violently and viciously against me, or attack me in any form, but I am not allowed to respond, in kind," he said. "What is becoming of our First Amendment, what is becoming of our Country?"
The 77-year-old Trump is also the target of a gag order in his current New York civil fraud trial after a flood of online abuse.
Judge Arthur Engoron slapped the gag order on Trump on October 3 after he insulted the judge's principal law clerk on Truth Social and has fined him a total of $15,000 for two violations.
Trump and his two eldest sons are accused in that case of inflating the value of their real estate assets to receive more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.
Trump additionally faces federal charges for alleged mishandling of top secret documents after he left the White House, and has been indicted for racketeering in Georgia on accusations that he tried to overturn the 2020 election results in the southern state.