A federal judge on Sunday reinstated a gag order against former President Donald J. Trump, who was temporarily detained nine days earlier, reimposing limits on what Mr. Trump can say about witnesses and prosecutors in the case in which he is accused of seeking to overturn the 2020 election.
In making her decision, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan also rejected a request by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to freeze the prison closure order for a significantly longer period, saying it could remain in place as a federal appeals court in Washington reviews it.
Judge Chutkan’s ruling on the order was made public on PACER, the federal court database, late Sunday, but her detailed order explaining her reasoning was not immediately available due to what appeared to be a computer system error.
The dispute over the gag order, which was initially entered Oct. 16 after several rounds of court filings and a hard-fought hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, has for weeks pitted two important legal arguments against each other.
From the beginning, Mr. Trump’s lawyers, largely led by John F. Lauro, argued that the order was more than just a violation of the former president’s First Amendment rights. Rather, the order “silenced” him at a critical moment: just as he was cementing his position as the Republican Party’s front-runner for president in the 2024 election.
Federal prosecutors working for special counsel Jack Smith countered that even though Mr. Trump was running for the nation’s highest office, he was not authorized to make public statements threatening or intimidating people involved in the election meddling case. especially if those remarks might incite violence in those who read or hear them.
When he first imposed the gag order, Judge Chutkan sided with the government, recognizing Mr. Trump’s First Amendment rights but saying he intended to treat him like any other criminal defendant — even if he ran for president .
Mr Trump’s constitutional rights cannot allow him to “launch a pre-trial smear campaign” against people involved in the case, she said, adding: “No other defendant will be allowed to do that and I will not I allow this case.”
Soon after Judge Chutkan issued the gag order, Mr. Lauro began the appeals process. A few days later, he asked the judge to freeze the order until the appeals court made its own decision, saying the ruling she handed down was “breathtakingly overbroad” and “unconstitutionally vague.”
That same day, Judge Chutkan delayed the order for a week, inviting further arguments on whether it should go into effect while Mr. Trump’s lawyers appeal it.
In response, prosecutors working for Mr. Smith argued that the gag order should be returned immediately because while it was in place, Mr. Trump violated it by attacking Mr. Smith at least three times by name.
The former president, prosecutors noted, also violated the freeze order by twice making public comments about Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff, who may testify in the case.
“The defendant took advantage of the court’s administrative suspension to send, among other damaging conduct, an unequivocal and threatening message” to Mr. Meadows, prosecutors wrote to Judge Chutkan. “Unless the court vacates the administrative stay, the defendant will not cease its malicious and prejudicial attacks.”
Mr. Trump also faces a more limited gag order in a civil case in New York where he is being sued on charges of fraudulently inflating the value of real estate he owned for years.
Last week, Judge Arthur F. Engoron, the judge overseeing the civil case in New York, fined Mr. Trump $10,000 for violating an order barring the former president from prosecuting court officials. The $10,000 fine followed a similar $5,000 fine that Judge Engoron imposed on Mr. Trump days earlier.