Wednesday, February 14, 2024

An appeals court in Washington on Friday paused the gag order imposed on former President Donald J. Trump in the federal case accusing him of seeking to overturn the 2020 election, temporarily freeing him to go back to attacking the prosecutors and witnesses involved in the proceeding.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the pause of about two weeks was needed to give it “sufficient opportunity” to decide whether to enact a longer freeze as the court considered the separate — and more important — issue of whether the gag order had been correctly imposed in the first place.

The panel’s ruling came in response to an emergency request to lift the order pending appeal that Mr. Trump’s lawyers filed on Thursday night. While the judges — all three of whom were appointed by Democrats — paused the gag order until at least Nov. 20 to permit additional papers to be filed, they wrote in their decision on Friday that the brief stay “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits” of Mr. Trump’s broader motion for a more sustained pause.

The gag order, which was put in place last month by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan in Federal District Court in Washington, has now been frozen, reinstated and frozen again. The protracted battle, with its back-and-forth filings and multiple reversals, has pitted two visions of Mr. Trump against each other.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Jack Smith, have repeatedly tried to portray the former president as a serial abuser of social media whose often belligerent posts about people involved in the election subversion case have had dangerous effects in the real world.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers, by contrast, have sought, without evidence, to paint Judge Chutkan’s order as an attempt by President Biden to “silence” his chief opponent in the 2024 election as the race heats up. The former president’s lawyers have argued that the order undermines Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights to express one of the central messages of his campaign: that the four criminal prosecutions brought against him in the past several months are a form of political persecution.

Mr. Trump appears to have paid close attention to the various iterations of the order, and the most recent pause opened the possibility that he could return to making threatening posts that violated the initial restrictions that Judge Chutkan put in place.

Her written order barred Mr. Trump from targeting members of her court staff, Mr. Smith or members of his staff, or any people who might reasonably be called to appear as witnesses at trial.

The previous time the gag order was lifted — a move Judge Chutkan herself undertook — Mr. Trump almost immediately assailed Mr. Smith as “deranged.”

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