A Washington appeals court on Friday lifted a gag order imposed on former President Donald J. Trump in the federal case accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election, temporarily freeing him to return to his attacks on prosecutors and witnesses involved in the process.
In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it needed a pause of about two weeks to give it “adequate opportunity” to decide whether to impose a longer freeze, as the court ruled that separate — and more important— issue of whether the gag order was properly imposed in the first place.
The panel’s decision came in response to an emergency request to lift the order pending an appeal filed by Mr Trump’s lawyers on Thursday night. While the justices — all three of whom were appointed by Democrats — stayed the gag order until at least Nov. 20 to allow additional documents to be filed, they wrote in their ruling Friday that the brief stay “should not be construed in any way as decision on the merits” of Mr. Trump’s broader proposal for a more permanent pause.
The gag order, which was put in place last month by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Federal District Court in Washington, D.C., has now been frozen, reinstated and frozen again. The protracted battle, with its filings and multiple twists and turns, has pitted two visions of Mr. Trump against each other.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith have tried repeatedly to portray the former president as a serial social media abuser whose often belligerent posts about people involved in the election tampering case had dangerous real-world results.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers, instead, sought, without evidence, to frame Judge Chutkan’s order as an attempt by President Biden to “silence” his primary opponent in the 2024 election as the race heats up. Lawyers for the former president argued that the order undermined Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights to express one of the central messages of his campaign: that the four criminal charges brought against him in recent months are a form of political prosecution.
Mr. Trump appears to have paid close attention to the various iterations of the order, and the most recent pause opened the possibility of him returning to threatening posts that violated the original restrictions set by Judge Chutkan.
Her written order prohibited Mr. Trump from targeting members of her judicial staff, Mr. Smith or members of his staff, or anyone reasonably subpoenaed as a witness at trial.
The previous time the gag order was lifted – a move that Judge Chutkan herself took – Mr Trump almost immediately attacked Mr Smith as “outraged”.