Federal Judge Reinstates Gag Order on Trump in Election Case

A federal judge reinstated a gag order on former President Donald J. Trump on Sunday that had been temporarily placed on hold nine days earlier, reimposing restrictions on what Mr. Trump can say about witnesses and prosecutors in the case in which he stands accused of seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

In making her decision, the judge, Tanya S. Chutkan, also denied a request by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to freeze the gag order for what could have been a considerably longer period, saying it can remain in effect as a federal appeals court in Washington reviews it.

“The First Amendment rights of participants in criminal proceedings must yield, when necessary, to the orderly administration of justice,” Judge Chutkan wrote.

The dispute about the gag order, which was initially put in place on Oct. 16 after several rounds of court filings and a hard-fought hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, has for weeks pitted two significant legal arguments against each other.

From the start, Mr. Trump’s lawyers, largely led by John F. Lauro, have argued that the order was not merely a violation of the former president’s First Amendment rights. Rather, they asserted, the order “silenced” him at a critical moment: just as he has been shoring up his position as the Republican Party’s leading candidate for president in the 2024 election.

Federal prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, have countered that even though Mr. Trump is running for the country’s highest office, he does not have permission to issue public statements threatening or intimidating people involved in the election interference case, especially if those remarks might incite violence in those who read or hear them.

When she first imposed the gag order, Judge Chutkan sided with the government, acknowledging Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights but saying that she intended to treat him like any other criminal defendant — even if he was running for president.

Mr. Trump’s constitutional rights could not permit him “to launch a pretrial smear campaign” against people involved in the case, she said, adding, “No other defendant would be allowed to do so, and I’m not going to allow it in this case.”

In her ruling on Sunday, Judge Chutkan rejected arguments by Mr. Lauro that Mr. Trump’s repeated public statements about the case posed no risk of intimidating or harassing the people the order was meant to protect: members of her court staff, Mr. Smith and any members of his staff and any witnesses who might end up testifying in the case.

Judge Chutkan also dismissed Mr. Lauro’s claims that the order she had imposed was too vague to be enforced.

Soon after Judge Chutkan issued the gag order, Mr. Lauro began the process of appealing it. A few days later, he asked the judge to freeze the order until the appeals court made its own decision, saying that the ruling she had put in place was “breathtakingly overbroad” and “unconstitutionally vague.”

That same day, Judge Chutkan placed the order on hold for one week, inviting further arguments about whether it should be in effect while Mr. Trump’s lawyers appealed it.

In response, prosecutors working for Mr. Smith argued that the gag order needed to be put back in place at once because while it was on hold, Mr. Trump had violated it by attacking Mr. Smith at least three times by name.

The former president, the prosecutors noted, had also violated the frozen order by twice making public comments about Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff, who could appear as a witness in the case.

“The defendant has capitalized on the court’s administrative stay to, among other prejudicial conduct, send an unmistakable and threatening message” to Mr. Meadows, prosecutors wrote to Judge Chutkan. “Unless the court lifts the administrative stay, the defendant will not stop his harmful and prejudicial attacks.”

Judge Chutkan cited some of those messages in her order on Sunday, saying they had likely violated her order while others public statements by Mr. Trump had not.

She pointed a post in which the former president criticized the election interference case as “politically motivated” and lashed out at Biden administration for being “corrupt.” Those statements, she said, were perfectly permissible under her order.

But the posts about Mr. Smith and Mr. Meadows were not allowed, she said.

It is likely that Mr. Trump’s legal team will soon ask the United States appeal court in the District of Columbia, which is hearing the broader challenge to the gag order, to issue its own stay on an expedited schedule.

Mr. Trump is also facing a more limited gag order in a civil case in New York, where he is standing trial on charges of having fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate holdings for years.

Last week, Justice Arthur F. Engoron, the judge overseeing the New York civil case, fined Mr. Trump $10,000 for violating the order, which bars the former president from going after members of the court’s staff. The $10,000 fine followed a similar $5,000 fine that Justice Engoron imposed on Mr. Trump days earlier.


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