Trump opposes 'unconstitutional' gag order in N.Y. hush-money case

Former President Donald Trump appears in court for a hearing in his New York hush money criminal case on February 15. On Monday, Trump's attorneys filed their opposition to a limited gag order motion, calling it "unconstitutional and unlawful." Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
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March 4 (UPI) -- Former President Donald Trump's legal team filed their opposition Monday to a limited gag order motion in his New York hush money case, as they urged the judge to reject the request just weeks before the start of the trial.

In the filing, Trump's lawyers ask Judge Juan Merchan to deny prosecutors' request for the gag order, which they call "unconstitutional" for failing to meet the legal standard for restricting a defendant's speech. The lawyers argue the former president should be allowed to respond to attacks by his political opponents as he runs for the Republican nomination.

"It would be unconstitutional and unlawful to impose a prior restraint on President Trump's First Amendment speech, which, notably, the People have requested around the time of Super Tuesday and as President Biden prepares to use the State of the Union address for his own political advocacy -- to assail President Trump based on politically motivated indictments, including the one in this case," his attorneys wrote.

"American voters have the First Amendment right to hear President Trump's uncensored voice on all issues that relate to this case," defense attorney Todd Blanche wrote. "President Trump's political opponents have, and will continue to, attack him based on this case. The voters have the right to listen to President Trump's unfettered responses to those attacks -- not just one side of that debate."

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Trump has pleaded not guilty and has denied he had an affair with Daniels. Jury selection is set to begin on March 25.

Last week, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg filed the motion to keep Trump from making public comments about potential witnesses, court staff and prosecutors. Prosecutors cited Trump's "long history of making public and inflammatory remarks" as the reason to impose a gag order.

"Those remarks, as well as the inevitable reactions they incite from the defendant's followers and allies, pose a significant and imminent threat to the orderly administration of this criminal proceeding and a substantial likelihood of causing material prejudice," the motion stated. It did not seek to bar Trump from making statements specifically about Bragg.

"Speech that falls short of incitement may not be silenced solely because it might inspire others to engage in violence or other unruly behavior -- regardless of how predictable (or not) those unruly reactions might be," Trump's lawyers wrote in Monday's filing.

Trump should be "afforded the highest level of constitutional protections" as his criminal case is "inextricably entwined with his campaign" for the presidency.