Trump asks appeals court to lift gag order imposed on him in 2020 election interference case

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Former President Donald Trump asked a federal appeals court on Thursday to lift a gag order restricting his speech about potential witnesses, prosecutors and court staff in the case that accuses him of scheming to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Trump’s attorneys urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block the gag order ruling from U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan while the Republican former president pursues his appeals.

Trump's lawyers say they will seek relief from the U.S. Supreme Court if the appeals court denies his request, arguing that the gag order violates Trump's First Amendment rights and those of “over 100 million Americans who listen to him.”

“The prosecution’s request for a Gag Order bristles with hostility to President Trump’s viewpoint and his relentless criticism of the government — including of the prosecution itself," Trump's lawyers wrote in court papers. "The Gag Order embodies this unconstitutional hostility to President Trump’s viewpoint."

Chutkan, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, reimposed the gag order on Sunday after denying Trump’s request to let him speak freely while he challenges the restrictions in higher courts.

The order bars Trump from making public statements targeting special counsel Jack Smith and his team, court employees and possible witnesses. It does not prohibit Trump from airing general complaints, even incendiary ones, about the case against him. The judge has explicitly said Trump is still allowed to assert his claims of innocence and his claims that the case is politically motivated.

Trump has made verbal attacks on those involved in the criminal cases against him a central part of his bid to reclaim the White House in 2024. Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case, and cast himself as the victim of a politically motivated justice system working to deny him another term.

In pushing to reinstate the gag order, prosecutors pointed to Trump’s recent social media comments about his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, which they said represented an attempt to influence and intimidate a likely witness in the case.

Trump's lawyers say the gag order unfairly prevents him from responding to broadsides from potential witnesses. who themselves are public figures.

“The 'witnesses' who supposedly might be ‘intimidated’ by President Trump’s speech are former officials from the highest echelons of government who have repeatedly attacked President Trump and his fitness for the Presidency in public statements, national media interviews, and books,” Trump's attorneys wrote.

Also on Thursday, the judge set rules around conducting research on possible jurors, who will be brought to the courthouse in Washington on Feb. 9 to fill out a questionnaire that will help the sides narrow down the jury pool before the trial. The trial is scheduled to begin on March 4.

Prosecutors had raised concerns about what Trump might do with research on possible jurors, citing the former president’s “continued use of social media as a weapon of intimidation in court proceedings.”

Trump’s lawyers have said the former president “has no intention of publicizing the names or other contact information of jurors.”

Chutkan said in her order on Thursday that while prosecutors and the defense can do open-source research into potential jurors, they cannot use non-public databases or have direct contact with them.

She ordered the sides not to reveal potential jurors’ names or any other identifying information. And she said that juror information can not be given to other entities not involved in the case — like Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign.

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Richer reported from Boston.