Campaign, court gag order collide with Trump attack on likely witness

President Donald Trump’s attack on a former White House official due to be a witness in the House impeachment investigation has collided with a court gag order barring discussion of his criminal case.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “lying and leaking” to the press and should be sentence to jail. McCabe, who was fired last year by then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is expected to appear before House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees as a witness in the Democrats’ inquiry into Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.

Trump’s tweet, however, comes as McCabe is under a court-issued stipulated protective order requiring participants in a lawsuit he’s filed against the Justice Department to keep outside the scope of the litigation any information contained within it.

McCabe’s defamation lawsuit, which was unsealed earlier this year, accuses the Justice Department of willingly bypassing “established procedures and leadership” when it fired him just two days before he could have retired.

The Trump Administration has argued that firing McCabe was legitimate and based on findings of four separate investigations, including one conducted by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.

The case is set for trial early next year and the protective order prohibits McCabe or those involved in his case from discussing the proceedings to the press outside of designated court filings. Any violation of this order could result in significant sanctions from the court.

The protective order has presented a dilemma for people in McCabe’s legal camp as they are prohibited from discussing any details of the case to the media. It could also affect McCabe’s testimony in the impeachment investigation as lawyers have been advised to keep their clients off social media until litigation is settled.

The gag order does not, however, appear to apply to comments made by the President. Although Trump’s attack does seem to violate the spirit of the order, legal experts say that Trump is unlikely to be held in contempt as he enjoys immunity from being prosecuted for his statements.