Judge in hush money trial threatens Trump with jail after holding him in contempt for violating gag order

The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s financial silence case on Tuesday held the former president in criminal contempt over a series of posts on Truth Social that he said violated a gag order barring attacks on jurors and witnesses and warned Trump he could be jailed for new violations.

Judge Juan Merchan held Trump in contempt for nine violations of his silence order, with a fine of $1,000 for each case. He warned in his decision that he would not tolerate further violations of the order and said that “if necessary and appropriate in the circumstances” he would impose “a term of imprisonment” on the former president .

The judge explained that because the fines, which are limited by state law, were relatively small compared to Trump’s wealth, they are unlikely to deter the former president from complying with the court order. Merchan said that while he would prefer to impose proportionately higher fines, he instead had to ask “whether in some cases prison may be a necessary punishment.”

The silence order prohibits the former president from “making or directing others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses regarding their potential participation in the investigation or this criminal proceeding,” and “from public statements about any prospective juror or juror.

Merchan said Tuesday that his order was “lawful and unambiguous” and that Trump violated it with social media posts about witnesses and public comments about jurors. He ordered Trump to remove seven of the offending posts from his Truth Social account and two other offending posts from his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The judge also said, in response to Trump’s complaints about expected witness comments that Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels made outside of court, that he might consider modifying the silence order to remove them from its protections. he considered it necessary in the future.

Cohen said in a statement responding to the judge’s ruling that the small fine “is irrelevant. Judge Merchan’s decision makes clear that this behavior will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law.” .

Merchan had indicated on April 23 that he was unimpressed by the defense’s arguments, telling one of Trump’s lawyers that he was “losing all credibility” when he suggested that Trump was being cautious in conform to silence.

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office had accused Trump of violating Merchan’s April 1 order at least 10 times since it took effect, including a message calling expected witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels ” sordid bags.” Another quote appeared to be a quote from Fox News personality Jesse Watters who said, “They’re catching undercover liberal activists lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury.” »

The DA sought a fine of up to $1,000 for each post it deemed a violation, as well as an order directing Trump to remove the posts. Prosecutors had also asked Merchan to warn Trump that any future violations could be punished with additional fines and up to 30 days in jail.

The possibility of Trump’s imprisonment will likely be seized upon by the former president’s campaign and supporters, particularly as a fundraising tool. Trump has already sent out a number of fundraising appeals related to the trial and the consequences he could face. Last year, the photo he took after being indicted in Georgia for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election sparked a fundraising bonanza for Trump.

Prosecutor Chris Conroy said during an early morning hearing April 23 that Trump “appears to want” to be incarcerated for political purposes.

Trump’s legal team countered that the former president did not deliberately violate the order and was simply responding to a “barrage of political attacks.”

When pressed by the judge, Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, however, struggled to identify the attacks to which Trump was supposed to respond. “I keep asking you to give me an example, and I don’t get an answer,” the judge said.

Trump’s lawyer, Emil Bove, previously said that some of the posts were responses to remarks by Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and that others were republished by people and media outlets, which, according to him, did not violate the order of silence. Merchan asked for case law to support this position, and Blanche said he had none. “It’s just common sense, Your Honor,” Blanche said.

Mercan responded to that assertion in his ruling Tuesday, saying he concluded that “a replay, with or without comment from the defendant, is in fact a statement by the defendant.”

“The question of ‘republication’ appears to be a question of first impression,” the judge wrote. “Lacking legal authority to guide its decision, this Court must, as defense counsel stated at the hearing, rely on common sense… The defendant organized the messages into cause and then took the necessary steps to publish the messages on his Truth Social account and on his campaign website. In doing so, he approved the messages with one goal in mind: to maximize the audience and communicate his stamp of approval. approval.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to reimbursing Cohen for money the attorney paid to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Daniels claims she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, an allegation he denies.

Trump faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

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