Court weighs reinstanting gag order on Trump in DC case

By Eric Tucker, Alanna Durkin Richer and Lindsay Whitehurst | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A lawyer for Donald Trump urged a federal appeals court Monday to revoke a gag order against the former president in a landmark criminal case, while a prosecutor argued that curbs are necessary to prevent intimidation and threats against participants in the case that charges Trump with scheming to overturn the 2020 election.

Appeals court judges asked skeptical and at times aggressive questions of attorneys on both sides while weighing whether to put back in place an order from a trial judge that barred Trump from inflammatory comments against prosecutors, potential witnesses and court staff.

The judges raised a litany of hypothetical scenarios that could arise in the months ahead as they considered how to fashion a balance between an order that protects Trump’s First Amendment rights and the need to protect “the criminal trial process and its integrity and its truth finding function.”

“There’s a balance that has to be undertaken here, and it’s a very difficult balance in this context,” Judge Patricia Millett told Cecil VanDevender, a lawyer with special counsel Jack Smith’s office. “But we have to use a careful scalpel here and not step into really sort of skewing the political arena, don’t we?”

VanDevender replied that he agreed but said he believes that the gag order does strike the appropriate balance.

The court did not immediately rule, but the outcome of Monday’s arguments will set parameters on what Trump, as both a criminal defendant and the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, can and cannot say as the trial date nears. The stakes are high given the volume and intensity of Trump’s public comments about the case and the massive public platform he holds. In a sign of its import, special counsel Smith himself attended the proceedings, sitting in the front row of the courtroom.

During arguments that spanned nearly two-and-a-half hours, the judges expressed clear sympathy for the idea that Trump’s rhetoric could inspire threats of violence.

Judge Brad Garcia pressed Trump lawyer John Sauer to explain why the court shouldn’t take preventive steps.

“This is predictably going to intensify as well as the threats, so 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.

But the judges also wondered aloud where to strike a balance. Millett, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, at one point expressed incredulity at the idea that Trump would not be able to respond to criticism about the case from rival candidates if he ever decided to participate in a presidential debate.

“You’re telling me he can’t say public record prosecutors paid by the taxpayers. … It’s all a political vendetta. They all are doing the bidding of Joe Biden?’” she asked. “He can’t stand on the stage and say that?”

The gag order is one of multiple contentious issues being argued ahead of the landmark March 2024 trial. …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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