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Special counsel urges court to reimpose Trump gag order in election interference case

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he exits the courtroom of his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Yuki Iwamura
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he exits the courtroom of his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Special counsel Jack Smith is urging a federal judge to reimpose the partial gag order on Donald Trump in his federal election interference case, arguing that the former president continues to try to intimidate witnesses on social media and in his public statements.

The narrow gag order issued last week by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan bars Trump from making statements targeting prosecutors and court personnel as well as inflammatory statements about likely witnesses.

Trump appealed the order, and has asked that the restrictions be put on hold, pending appeal. Judge Chutkan did so temporarily to allow both sides to brief the court on whether a longer pause is merited.

In a filing overnight, Smith said the court should reject Trump's request for a longer hold, and urged that the restrictions be put back in place.

The special counsel's office said that in the few days since Chutkan temporarily lifted the restrictions, Trump "has returned to the very sort of targeting" the gag order prohibits. Smith points to a Truth Social message Trump posted on Oct. 24 after ABC News reported that Trump's last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, had testified in exchange for a grant of immunity.

NPR has not independently confirmed the report.

"Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future of our Failing Nation," Trump said in the post, a screenshot of which is included in the government's filing. "I don't think that Mark Meadows is one of them, but who really knows?"

Smith says that Trump also commented on Meadows' credibility and anticipated testimony in a press conference at a New York state courthouse where the former president faces a civil fraud trial.

"The defendant's targeting included insinuating that if the reporting were true, the Chief of Staff had lied and had been coerced, and the defendant sent a clear public message to the Chief of Staff, intended to intimidate him," Smith writes.

He adds that unless the gag order is reimposed, Trump "will not stop his harmful and prejudicial attacks."

Smith also wants the court to clarify that Trump cannot communicate with witnesses about the facts of the case, including through indirect messages made publicly on social media or in speeches.

More broadly, Smith argues that the restrictions the court imposed were narrow and necessary to safeguard the court proceedings and protect witnesses from intimidation and threats. He also says that Trump has not shown a likelihood of success on appeal, or that the public interest weighs in favor of a stay.

Trump's legal team has until Saturday to respond to Smith's filing.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.