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Trump’s lawyers ask full appeals court to review gag order restricting his speech in election case

The appeals court upheld but narrowed a gag order that barred Trump from verbally attacking witnesses over their participation in the case

U.S. President Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. president Donald Trump attends a rally in Reno, Nevada, U.S., December 17, 2023.CARLOS BARRIA (REUTERS)

Lawyers for Donald Trump asked the full federal appeals court in Washington to review a gag order restricting the former president’s speech in the case charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 election.

The request Monday follows a decision by a three-judge panel of the appeals court that upheld but narrowed a gag order that barred Trump from verbally attacking witnesses over their participation in the case and imposed other restrictions on what he may say.

In requesting that the entire court take up the matter, Trump’s lawyers argued the panel’s decision earlier this month contradicted Supreme Court precedent and rulings from other appeals courts. They said a fresh consideration was needed “both to secure uniformity of this Court’s decisions and because of the question’s exceptional importance.”

“This petition presents a question of exceptional importance: Whether a district court may gag the core political speech of the leading candidate for President of the United States—disregarding the First Amendment rights of over 100 million American voters—based on speculation about undefined possible future harms to the judicial process,” the lawyers wrote.

The gag order was imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in October in response to concerns from special counsel Jack Smith’s team that Trump’s pattern of incendiary comments could taint the proceedings, intimidate witnesses and influence jurors.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the gag order but modified it in important ways, freeing Trump to publicly criticize Smith. The panel said that though he could make general comments about known or foreseeable witnesses, he could not directly attack them over their involvement in the case or about the content of their expected testimony.

The gag order issue is one of multiple pending court challenges ahead of Trump’s election subversion trial, which is currently scheduled for March 4.

Last week, Smith’s team asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up and rule quickly on a Trump appeal claiming that he is immune from prosecution as a former president. Trump’s team is scheduled to respond to that request in a legal brief on Wednesday. The Washington-based federal appeals court last week granted prosecutors’ request to expedite consideration of Trump’s appeal.

In the meantime, Chutkan has ordered a pause to the proceedings while the appeal plays out.

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