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

A federal appeals court in Washington on Friday 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 the court upheld the ban on public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the case.

"By broadly proscribing any statements about or directed to the Special Counsel and the court’s and counsel’s staffs, as well as reasonably foreseeable witnesses or their testimony, the Order sweeps too broadly," the court said in its opinion. "It captures some constitutionally protected speech that lacks the features or content that would trench upon the court’s proper functioning or ability to administer justice."

Trump, who has described the gag order as unconstitutional muzzling of his political speech, could appeal the ruling to the full court or to the Supreme Court.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan imposed the gag order in October, barring Trump from making public statements targeting Smith and other prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had lifted the gag order while it considered Trump's challenge.

Prosecutors have argued the restrictions are 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 whirlwind trajectory through the courts since prosecutors proposed it, citing Trump’s repeated disparagement of the special counsel, the judge overseeing the case and likely witnesses.

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 insurrection 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.