WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal judge overseeing Donald Trump’s 2020 election interference case in Washington has reimposed a narrow gag order barring him from making public comments targeting prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan is presiding over the federal case charging Trump with plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss. She had temporarily lifted the gag order as she considered the Republican former president’s request to keep it on hold while he challenges the restrictions on his speech in higher courts.
But Chutkan on Sunday agreed to reinstate the order after prosecutors cited Trump’s recent social media comments about his former chief of staff Mark Meadows that they said represented an attempt to influence and intimidate a likely witness in the case.
“This statement would almost certainly violate the Order under any reasonable definition of ‘targeting,’” Chutkan wrote.
The order is a fresh reminder that Trump’s penchant for incendiary and bitter rants about the legal troubles he’s facing, though politically beneficial in rallying his supporters as he seeks to reclaim the White House, carry practical consequences in court. Two judges have now imposed orders mandating that he rein in his speech, with the jurist presiding over a civil fraud trial in New York issuing a monetary fine last week.
A request for comment was sent Sunday to a Trump attorney, Todd Blanche. Trump in a social media post late Sunday acknowledged that the gag order was back in place, calling it “NOT CONSITUTIONAL!”
Trump’s lawyers have said they will seek an emergency stay of the order from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The defense has said Trump is entitled to criticize prosecutors and “speak truth to oppression.”
Though Chutkan reinstated the gag order, she denied a request from special counsel Jack Smith’s team to make compliance with that order a condition of Trump’s release as he awaits trial.
“Even assuming that request is procedurally proper, the court concludes that granting it is not necessary to effectively enforce the Order at this time,” Chutkan wrote. She did not elaborate on how the order might be enforced.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing in the case. He has made a central part of his 2024 campaign for president vilifying Smith and others involved the criminal cases against him, casting himself as the victim of a politicized justice system.
Prosecutors have said Trump’s verbal attacks threaten to undermine the integrity of the case and risk inspiring his supporters to violence.
Smith’s team said Trump took advantage of the recent lifting of the gag order to “send an unmistakable and threatening message” to Meadows, who was reported by ABC News to have received immunity to testify before a grand jury.
Trump mused on social media about the possibility that Meadows would give testimony to Smith in exchange for immunity. One part of the post said: “Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future our Failing Nation. I don’t think that Mark Meadows is one of them but who really knows?”
Chutkan wrote that that post almost certainly would have violated her order because it singles out a witness, characterizes potentially unfavorable testimony as a “lie” and suggests only a weakling or coward would make those statements to prosecutors. The judge said such an “attack” could “readily be interpreted as an attempt to influence or prevent the witness’s participation in this case.”
She drew a contrast between the post about Meadows and a more general one from days earlier that she said would not have violated her order. In that one, Trump described the Biden administration as corrupt and repeated his claims that the prosecution was politically motivated. That post was permissible, she said, because it did not target specific individuals.
In a separate case, Trump was fined $10,000 last week after the judge in his civil fraud trial in New York said the former president had violated a gag order.
Trump is currently confronting four criminal prosecutions in four cities.
Besides the case in Washington charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 election, he’s been charged by Smith’s team in federal court in Florida with illegally hoarding classified documents that he took with him when he left the White House, and he is awaiting trial on state charges in New York related to hush money payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign and in Georgia over efforts to undo that state’s election results in 2020.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in each of those cases.
Richer reported from Boston.