NATIONAL NEWS

Appeals court upholds gag order on Trump in Washington case but narrows restrictions on his speech

Dec 8, 2023, 11:19 AM | Updated: 12:04 pm

FILE - Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks to Texas state tr...

FILE - Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks to Texas state troopers and guardsmen at the South Texas International Airport, Nov. 19, 2023, in Edinburg, Texas. Trump's lawyers are arguing that he had a good faith basis to question the outcome of the 2020 election that he lost. A defense motion filed late Monday in federal court in Washington asserts that Trump was not obligated to accept at face value the judgments of government officials who found no widespread fraud in the election. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court in Washington on Friday largely upheld a gag order on former President Donald Trump in his 2020 election interference case but narrowed the restrictions on his speech

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

The unanimous ruling is mostly a win for Smith’s team, with the judges agreeing with prosecutors that Trump’s often-incendiary comments about participants in the case can have a damaging practical impact and rejecting claims by defense attorneys that any restrictions on the ex-president’s speech amounted to an unconstitutional gag order. It lays out fresh parameters about what Trump can and cannot say about the case as he both prepares for a March trial and campaigns to reclaim the White House.

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

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

Even so, the court took steps to narrow the gag order imposed in October by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, which in addition to barring inflammatory comments about Smith and court staff also restricted Trump’s right to target witnesses. The judges ruled that that part of the order was overly broad, freeing Trump to talk to or about potential witnesses — including about their books, interviews and political campaigns — provided that the comments are not about those people’s potential participation in the investigation or tria or about the content of any expected testimony.

“The interest in protecting witnesses from intimidation and harassment is doubtless compelling, but a broad prohibition on speech that is disconnected from an individual’s witness role is not necessary to protect that interest, at least on the current record,” the court wrote.

“Indeed,” the opinion says, “public exchanges of views with a reasonably foreseeable witness about the contents of his forthcoming book are unlikely to intimidate that witness or other potential witnesses weighing whether to come forward or to testify truthfully.”

Trump could still appeal the ruling to the full court or to the Supreme Court. A lawyer for Trump did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, imposed the gag order following a request from prosecutors, who cited Trump’s pattern of incendiary comments. The prosecutors said restrictions were necessary to protect the integrity of the case and shield 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, with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifting the gag order while it considered Trump’s challenge.

The case accuses Trump of plotting with his Republican allies to subvert the will of voters in a desperate bid to stay in power in the run-up to the riot by his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. It is scheduled to go to trial in March in Washington’s federal court, just blocks away from the U.S. Capitol.

The special counsel has separately charged Trump in Florida with 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. That case is set for trial next May, though the judge has signaled that the date might be postponed.

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

National News

Associated Press

Three little piggies at a yoga class = maximum happiness

SPENCER, Mass. (AP) — Three little piggies went to a yoga class. Their human companions had a blast. Wilbur, Charlotte and Bluey fit right into a growing trend of yoga with animals, adding some fun to the usual physical and mental wellness exercises at a class in central Massachusetts. Darting and strolling among the yoginis […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

You didn’t think summer travel would be easy, did you? Highways and airports are likely to be jammed the next few days as Americans head out for Memorial Day weekend getaways and then return home. AAA predicts this will be the busiest start-of-summer weekend in nearly 20 years, with 43.8 million people expected to travel […]

23 minutes ago

Associated Press

5 dead and nearly 3 dozen hurt in tornadoes that tore through Iowa, officials say

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) — A deadly tornado that wreaked havoc in the small city of Greenfield, Iowa, left four people dead and nearly three dozen injured, officials said, while a fifth person was killed elsewhere. The twister that tore through the city on Tuesday was rated at least an EF-3 by the National Weather Service […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Thousands of journalists have fled homelands due to repression, threats and conflict, UN expert says

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Thousands of journalists have fled their home countries in recent years to escape political repression, save their lives and escape conflict – but in exile they are often vulnerable to physical, digital and legal threats, a U.N. investigator said Wednesday. Irene Khan said in a report to the U.N. General Assembly […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk. Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Missouri prosecutors to seek death penalty in killing of court employee and police officer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri prosecutors said Wednesday that they intend to seek the death penalty against a Kansas City-area man who is charged with murder in the killings of a court employee who tried to serve an eviction notice on him and a police officer who responded. Larry Acree, 70, of Independence, is […]

7 hours ago

Appeals court upholds gag order on Trump in Washington case but narrows restrictions on his speech