Former President Donald Trump’s defense lawyer faced tough grilling Monday from appeals court judges over a proposed gag order in his federal election interference case.
Trump’s team urged the panel to revoke District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan’s gag order barring Trump from targeting witnesses in the case charging him with plotting to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election.
The defense echoed Trump’s complaints that the gag order violates his First Amendment right to speak out about the case, which he considers a partisan witch hunt designed to prevent him from winning a return to the White House in 2024.
“The order is unprecedented and it sets a terrible precedent for future restrictions on core political speech,” Trump attorney John Sauer told the three-judge panel during the hearing that went on for more than two hours, much longer than expected.
Smith’s team countered that the restrictions are needed to prevent Trump from intimidating people who may be called to testify against him at the trial, which is set to start March 4.
The panel of Washington, D.C. Circuit Court judges appeared skeptical of Sauer’s arguments that the gag order was unconstitutional or had been entered without sufficient cause.
Judge Brad Garcia pressed Sauer to explain why the court can’t take steps now to defend the integrity of the case before threats against those involved get even worse.
“Why isn’t the district court justified in taking a more proactive measure and not waiting for more and more threats to occur and stepping in to protect the integrity of the trial?” he asked.
Other judges pointed out that defendants in criminal trials are often barred from publicly discussing aspects of their cases to protect the jury pool and preempt witness tampering.
They also asked some pointed questions of a prosecutor who defended the gag order.
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