Former President Donald Trump is appealing a narrow gag order that bars him from making statements attacking prosecutors, potential witnesses and court staff in his election interference case in Washington, according to court documents filed Tuesday.
Trump’s lawyers said in court papers that they will challenge an order from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan that restricts Trump’s public statements about the case accusing him of scheming to subvert the results of the 2020 election.
Special counsel Jack Smith’s team sought the order against the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner over a litany of verbal attacks from him on likely witnesses and others. Prosecutors say Trump’s incendiary rhetoric is designed to undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial process and taint the jury pool.
During a court hearing on Monday, Chutkan said Trump can criticize the Justice Department generally and assert his belief that the case is politically motivated. Her order also explicitly says Trump is allowed to criticize the campaign platforms or policies of his political rivals, like former Vice President Mike Pence — who is both a competitor for the GOP nomination and a likely witness in the case.
Chutkan, however, said Trump can’t mount a “smear campaign” against prosecutors and court personnel. The judge, who was nominated to the bench by former President Barack Obama, repeatedly expressed concern that Trump’s rhetoric could inspire his supporters to violence.
Trump slammed the gag order as he returned to court Tuesday for his civil fraud trial, insisting he is “not saying anything wrong.” His lawyers told the judge that the former president is entitled to criticize prosecutors and that the court should not to be able to restrict his First Amendment rights.
Legal experts have said Chutkan’s gag order may be just the beginning of an unprecedented fight over what limits can be a placed on the speech of a defendant who is also campaigning for America’s highest public office. The issue could ultimately end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
At rallies and in social media posts, Trump has repeatedly sought to vilify Smith, other prosecutors, likely witnesses and even the judge. He has called prosecutors a “team of thugs,” called Chutkan “very biased and unfair,” and referred to one potential witness as a “gutless pig.” Prosecutors also cited a post in which Trump suggested that Mark Milley, the then-retiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had committed treason and should be executed.
The case, which accuses Trump of scheming to subvert the results of the election, is scheduled to go to trial in March. It’s one of four criminal cases Trump is facing while he campaigns to return to the White House in 2024. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Richer reported from Boston. Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin in New York contributed.