US District Judge Tanya Chutkan temporarily lifted her narrow gag order in Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case in Washington on Friday to give lawyers time to file more briefs on the matter. Chutkan made that ruling shortly after Trump’s lawyers urged the judge to pause the gag order while he pursues his appeal of it. The gag order she issued Monday barred him from making public statements targeting prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses. Chutkan said the order would be lifted while she considers Trump’s request for a longer stay. She ordered special counsel Jack Smith’s team to file any opposition to Trump’s bid to lift the gag order by Wednesday.
Trump’s lawyers, who had quickly appealed the ruling to the DC Circuit Court, wrote in court papers Friday that neither prosecutors nor the judge have “come close” to justifying the gag order, adding that the former president “has not unlawfully threatened or harassed anyone.” “By restricting President Trump’s speech, the Gag Order eviscerates the rights of his audiences, including hundreds of millions of American citizens who the Court now forbids from listening to President Trump’s thoughts on important issues,” the defence wrote. In her Monday 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 centrepiece 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 politicised 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.
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 USD 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.