Donald Trump’s lawyers on Friday argued that a limited gag order barring him from targeting witnesses constitutes judicial overreach and a grievous violation of the First Amendment.
The claim, made in an appeals court filing ahead of a hearing next week, seeks to permanently lift an order imposed by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan last month in the federal case Trump faces for his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 presidential election, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Chutkan’s Oct. 16 order never barred Trump from speaking broadly about the case, in which he has pleaded not guilty. Instead, it narrowly constrained the former president and 2024 hopeful from targeting prosecutors, court staffers and potential witnesses.
Despite that, Trump’s lawyers repeatedly described the order Friday as a ban on their client’s broader political speech, painting Trump as the victim of “a single federal judge” whose court “had no business inserting itself into the Presidential election, just weeks before the Iowa caucuses.”
“Criminal proceedings do not suspend the First Amendment; if anything, they heighten the need for First Amendment protections,” they wrote in the brief.
Chutkan had temporarily lifted the order on Oct. 20 — a reprieve Trump took advantage of to target Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff, amid reports that Meadows had been granted immunity to testify against him.
Soon after Chutkan suspended the order, Trump published a characteristically bizarre outburst on social media, wondering aloud if Meadows was a weakling and coward who would make a deal with prosecutors.
Chutkan reimposed the gag order after that post. A U.S. Court of Appeals decision then temporarily lifted the order, again, earlier this month, noting as it did so that the pause “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits.”
On Nov. 20, both sides are scheduled to argue before the appeals court as it considers a ruling on the matter.
In a separate civil fraud trial Thursday, a New York appeals court judge also paused a gag order against Trump that limited what he could say about court staffers. Shortly thereafter, Trump, who’d previously violated the order twice, went on an angry tirade focused on the judge and a court clerk.