Appeals court pauses federal gag order in former President Donald Trump's election interference case

Former President Donald Trump is shown attending his civil fraud trial in New York, in which he was found guilty of inflating the value of his properties by billions of dollars to obtain favorable loan terms from banks. File Photo by Dave Sanders/UPI

Nov. 4 (UPI) -- An appeals court temporarily suspended a gag order that partially restricted what former President Donald Trump can say publicly ahead of his federal election fraud trial in Washington early next year.

The three-judge panel issued the emergency stay on Friday less than a day after Trump's legal team filed a motion to pause an October decision by U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan preventing Trump from speaking out against court staff, potential witnesses, and members of special counsel Jack Smith's prosecutorial team.

The stay was not based on the merits presented by Trump's lawyers earlier this week in a filing for the stay, but was granted to provide the court with additional time to consider the merits of the appeal.

The Washington, D.C., appeals court, comprised of two judges appointed by former President Barack Obama and another appointed by President Joe Biden, set oral arguments to begin in the matter on Nov. 20.

Chutkan initially put the gag order in place due to inflammatory remarks Trump frequently made on social media about the case.

Previously, prosecutors argued Trump's rhetoric was serving to stoke violence, contaminate the jury pool and incite the public with phony claims as he seeks the 2024 Republican nomination for president.

In court papers filed Thursday, Trump's attorneys argued that Chutkan's order was "muzzling President Trump's core political speech during an historic presidential campaign."

Trump has also continued to defend his commentary as protected free speech, and this was his second appeal of the gag order after Chutkan paused it in October for a legal review.

"The defendant's conduct presents a 'substantial likelihood of material prejudice' to these proceedings, and the court can and should take steps to restrict such harmful extrajudicial statements," the special counsel's office wrote to Chutkan at the time, urging her to deny Trump's request.

Chutkan granted a partial gag order to prevent Trump from making statements that were likely to stain public perception about the case, while the former president would still be allowed to criticize his opponents and proclaim his innocence on the campaign trail.

The case before Chutkan involves Trump's failed efforts to overturn the 2020 federal election results, which Joe Biden won but Trump falsely claimed to his followers were rigged.

He faces four criminal counts in the trial that is set to begin in March.

Separately, Trump was indicted this past summer by the same special counsel on 37 counts for his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving office.

In May, Trump was barred from posting evidence to social media about a separate criminal case in which he faces 34 felony charges related to falsifying records in a hush-money scheme.

Trump has also been put under a gag order in his civil fraud trial in New York in which Judge Arthur Engoron found the former president guilty of of inflating the values of real estate properties.

Engoron fined Trump $10,000 for violating the gag order after the former president lashed out at officials at the helm of the proceedings, a week before Engoron expanded the gag order to prohibit Trumps' legal team from making any further comments regarding confidential communications between the judge and his staff.