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Trump lawyers, federal prosecutors to clash over silence in election interference case

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WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Donald Trump and the Justice Department will face off Monday in a federal appeals court, where the former president’s lawyers will argue that his constitutional rights were violated by a silence order barring him from disparaging witnesses and prosecutors associated with the case. election interference case.

Both sides are scheduled to present their arguments in Washington before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET, in a hearing expected to last about an hour.

The justices — two appointed by former President Barack Obama, one by President Joe Biden — issued an order this month suspending the silence until they can hear arguments in the appeal. The judges won’t make a decision at the hearing, but their questioning could indicate which way they lean.

Trump says that as a presidential candidate, his speech should not be hindered in any way.

“The Gag Order appoints an unelected federal judge to censor what the leading candidate for president of the United States might say to all Americans,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “No court has ever silenced fundamental political speech at the height of a campaign,” he added, calling for the decision to be “swiftly overturned.”

Prosecutors from Special Prosecutor Jack Smith’s office argue that the order is necessary for a fair trial and that Trump’s social media posts and public comments about potential witnesses and lawyers in the case have led to risks harassment and intimidation of witnesses.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, sided with the prosecutor in an order issued last month.

“Undisputed testimony cited by the government demonstrates that when defendant has publicly attacked individuals, including on matters related to this case, those individuals are consequently threatened and harassed,” Chutkan wrote in an Oct. 17 ruling citing Trump’s comments about how some people involved. in the case “are liars, or “thugs”, or deserve to die. »

“The court finds that such statements present a significant and immediate risk that (1) witnesses will be intimidated or otherwise unduly influenced by the prospect of being targets of harassment or threats themselves; and (2) lawyers, officials, and other court personnel will themselves become targets of threats and harassment,” the judge wrote.

His silence order prohibited Trump “from making public statements, or directing others to make public statements” that target likely witnesses and the substance of their testimony, as well as the special counsel, his staff and court employees.

But he also made some exceptions by explicitly allowing Trump to continue criticizing the Biden administration and the Justice Department in connection with the case, to argue that the charges against him are politically motivated and to assert his innocence. Chutkan also said she would not ban “statements criticizing the campaign platforms or policies of the defendant’s current political rivals, such as former Vice President Pence,” a then-presidential candidate. who will likely be called as a prosecution witness when the case goes to court. trial in March.

Trump’s lawyers appealed the order, arguing that Chutkan acted as “a barrier between the leading presidential candidate, President Donald J. Trump, and all Americans across the country,” and that the court did not had “no reason to get involved in the presidential election”. .”

“President Trump’s speech on this matter is quintessential campaign speech,” and the “First Amendment does not permit the district court to micromanage President Trump’s primary political speech,” his lawyers argued.

Prosecutors countered that Trump was seeking special treatment and urged the appeals court not to grant it.

In their filing, government lawyers said Trump maintains “it is not enough for him to be able to defend himself in court, publicly profess his innocence, criticize the presiding judge, characterize the prosecution as politically motivated and to criticize government programs and policies. his political opponents. He must also be allowed to engage in a concerted campaign targeting witnesses and officials like judicial staff and career prosecutors, and even their families, with inflammatory language that could lead to harassment, intimidation and threats.

“No other defendant or defense attorney could credibly make such a claim, and the Court should reject defendant’s request to craft a special rule just for him,” they added.

This is not the first time Trump has been hit with a gag order, nor the first time he has appealed.

The New York judge presiding over Trump’s ongoing $250 million civil fraud trial imposed a silence order last month after Trump defamed the judge’s law clerk in a social media post. After an appeal, a state court temporarily lifted the silence order until the case could be heard by a full panel of judges later this month.

Daniel Barnes reported from Washington and Dareh Gregorian from New York.

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