Court declines to vacate its stay on Trump’s gag order

Washington, Nov 21 (IANS) The DC appellate court judges here declined to pronounce a verdict Monday on whether the “limited gag order” issued by federal judge Tanya Chutkan against ex-president Donald Trump should be reinstated, but pressed the DOJ to present the viability of putting it back.

A Washington appeals court pressed the DOJ prosecutors and attorneys for Donald Trump on the viability of a “limited gag order” in Trump’s federal election interference case at a hearing Monday, media reports said .

The limited gag order, paused by the appellate court till the hearing played out in the federal court , was first issued by US District Judge Tanya Chutkan.

It bans Trump from making or reposting statements “publicly targeting” special counsel Jack Smith and his staff, targeting the judge’s staff and the staff of other DC district court personnel, the reports said.

The judges did not immediately issue a decision on whether the limited gag order should be reinstated, ABC news reported.

As early as August, Trump pleaded not guilty to charges of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 election that declared Joe Biden as the President. Trump was accused of enlisting a list of “fake electors”, using the Justice Department to conduct “sham election crime investigations”, trying to enlist the vice president to “alter the election results”, and promoting false claims of a stolen election as the January 6 riot raged.

All this was done to subvert democracy and remain in power.

The former president has denied all wrongdoing and denounced the charges as “a persecution of a political opponent”.

He even called it a political witch hunt.

Chutkan issued the limited gag order last month as soon as Trump made abusive remarks on social media calling Smith “deranged” and a “thug”.

At Monday’s hearing, Trump attorney John Sauer described the limited gag order as one that sought to restrain Trump from making free speeches on his election trail and was violative of the first amendment under the constitution.

The order against Trump was “unprecedented” and one that set “a terrible precedent for future restrictions on core political speech”.

A judge then asked if Trump is “above the law,” to which Sauer replied the defence was yet to argue on that. The judge then pressed Sauer with several instances of a Supreme Court precedent and asked whether he believes courts can claim a sufficient interest in protecting the integrity of a trial that they could implement such a gag order.

Sauer took exception saying the present conditions and situation were wholly unique.

Sauer opined a threat has to be “imminent” and not merely speculative for gag order, which Judge Bradley Garcia indicated ran afoul of a precedent, ABC reported.

Special counsel Cecil VanDevender argued that restrictions on making direct attacks against Smith were supported by a Supreme Court precedent — but judges asked him to explain why that didn’t violate Trump’s First Amendment rights.

The appellate judges then raised a hypothetical scenario where Trump was on a debate stage where his opponents could raise specific issues regarding the prosecutions he is facing, and ask whether he should be barred from responding to them. The judge asked VanDevender whether Trump would have to speak “Ms. Manners” while everyone on the stage is targeting him, ABC reported.

VanDevender said the relaxation of the gag order would permit Trump to say the prosecution was politically motivated and call the Justice Department corrupt, but Trump should be barred from even mentioning the names of prosecutors in the case. This saw an aggressive push back from judges as they presented with several hypothetical scenarios that could test the gag order.

One judge asked if Trump could respond to a Bill Barr appearance on 60 Minutes attacking him over January 6, by saying everything Barr said was false. VanDevender suggested Trump could say it was false, but couldn’t engage in other “inflammatory language” or attack Barr’s credibility directly in a way that would influence the jury pool. Another judge asked if calling someone a “slimy liar” was inflammatory.

“I think it’s inflammatory,” VanDevender answered, saying Trump could say he “disagreed” with a witness’ testimony related to January 6, but he could not say that they “lied”.

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