A federal appeals court mostly upheld a gag order on Donald Trump in his 2020 election interference case but narrowed the restrictions to allow him to criticize Jack Smith the special counsel who brought the case. The three-judge panel reimposed limits on what Trump can say about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses and about court staff and other lawyers. The unanimous ruling is mostly a win for Smith’s team, as the judges agreed with prosecutors that Trump’s often-incendiary comments about participants in the case can have a damaging practical impact and rejecting claims by defense attorneys that restrictions on the ex-president’s speech are an unconstitutional muzzling. It lays out fresh parameters about what Trump can and cannot say about the case as he prepares for a March trial and campaigns to reclaim the White House.
“Mr. Trump’s documented pattern of speech and its demonstrated real-time, real-world consequences pose a significant and imminent threat to the functioning of the criminal trial process in this case,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote. She noted that many targets of Trump’s verbal jabs “have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters.” Friday’s opinion says that though Trump has a constitutional right to free speech and is a presidential candidate, “he is also is also an indicted criminal defendant, and he must stand trial in a courtroom under the same procedures that govern all other criminal defendants. “That,” Millett wrote, “is what the rule of law means.” The appellate judges ruled that that part of the lower court's gag order was overly broad, freeing Trump to talk about potential witnesses — including about their books, interviews and political campaigns — provided that the comments are not about their potential participation in the investigation or trial or about the content of any expected testimony. Trump is expected to appeal the ruling.