A court-ordered gag order meant to keep President Trump’s attacks on likely witnesses in his criminal investigation from influencing jurors has collided in a serious way with Trump’s aggressive statements about targets of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The debate over the potential influence of the president’s words played out in a Washington D.C. federal appeals court this week, as Trump’s attorneys asked judges to reconsider an earlier ruling which held that the president’s public rhetoric violated a gag order that applies to Mueller’s criminal probe.
Trump’s counsel argued that the president’s public comments do not represent orders from the executive office and do not touch upon confidential information related to the case. Additionally, Trump’s lawyers argued that the term “likely witnesses,” refers to those individuals who might be subject to subpoenas later on and said that the president had never mentioned witnesses specifically related to his criminal investigation.
“This is the latest round in an ongoing battle between the president and the court,” said attorney and legal scholar Alan Dershowitz. “On one side, the Trump administration is trying to argue that the president’s right to free speech should be respected and taken into account when determining the scope of a gag order. On the other side, the 39-page gag order clearly states that Mr. Trump cannot mention any witnesses or targets of the criminal investigation.”
The appeals court announced on Tuesday its intention to review the court’s gag order but warned the president that court-ordered gag orders “are necessary, particularly when the President’s calculated statements can have serious and immediate ramifications for justice in our society.”
Though the appeals court will now decide what limits constrain the president’s language, Trump’s legal team has already indicated that they plan to challenge the gag order all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. In the meantime, the president’s attorneys have asked that the gag order be suspended so that he can continue discussing his investigation publicly, including speeches and tweets that allude to witnesses.
The fight over the gag order highlights the way in which the Trump administration is pushing back against the limits placed on the president’s power. As the legal battle continues, it’s clear that the issue of whether or not the president should be held to the same legal standards as the average American will continue to be a major point of contention.