Judge extends Trump’s gag order after social media posts by the ex-president about the judge’s daughter

By | April 2, 2024

NEW YORK (AP) — Into court Donald TrumpThe April 15 hush-money criminal trial declared his family off-limits Monday over the former president’s grudge, extending a gag order days after Trump attacked his daughter and made false claims about her on social media.

Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan modified a week-old ban on Trump making public statements about witnesses, jurors and others related to the case after the presumptive Republican nominee lashed out at Loren Merchan, a Democratic political consultant in several posts on his Truth Social platform.

Trump is still free to criticize Merchan and another key figure in the case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat leading the hush-money prosecution. But under the revised gag order, the prosecutor’s family is now also off limits to his rhetoric.

“This pattern of attacks on family members of presiding lawyers and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose,” Merchan wrote. “It only instills fear in those designated or called to participate in the proceedings that not only they, but also their family members are ‘fair game’ in the defendant’s vitriol.”

A violation could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Trump’s attorney, Susan Necheles, declined comment. A spokesperson for the Public Prosecution Service also declined comment.

Trump’s hush money case, one of four criminal cases against him, centers on allegations that he improperly recorded payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen as legal fees that were intended for Cohen’s work to cover negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign to cover up. That included $130,000 that Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels on Trump’s behalf so that she would not go public with her claim about a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last April to 34 charges of falsifying corporate records, a crime punishable by up to four years in prison, although there is no guarantee a conviction would lead to prison time. He denies having sex with Daniels and his lawyers have said the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal fees and not part of any cover-up.

Trump ignited a firestorm last Wednesday — the day after the original silence order was issued — when he suggested on Truth Social, without evidence, that Merchan’s statements were influenced by his daughter’s political consulting interests and falsely claimed that she had posted a photo on Social media had posted. media shows him behind bars.

Trump complained that the judge “wrongly sought to deprive me of my First Amendment right to speak out against the weaponization of law enforcement” by Democratic rivals and that Loren Merchan “makes money working on ‘Get Trump’.”

Trump’s posts put Merchan in an extraordinary position as a judge and father. Just two weeks before jury selection in the historic first-ever criminal trial of a former president, Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors argued in a series of lawsuits over the limits of the original silence order and whether Trump had overstepped them.

“It is no longer just a possibility or a reasonable probability that there is a threat to the integrity of the judicial process,” Merchan concluded Monday. “The threat is very real. Admonitions are not enough, nor is relying on self-control.”

Merchan responded after prosecutors asked him Friday to “clarify or confirm” the scope of the silence order and order Trump to “immediately refrain from attacks on family members.”

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass implored Merchan to make it “abundantly clear” to Trump that the silence order protects the judge’s family, Bragg’s family and the relatives of everyone else covered by it. He urged Merchan to warn Trump “that his recent behavior is offensive and order him to stop it immediately.”

Trump’s lawyers fought the silence order and its extension, citing constitutional concerns about further restricting Trump’s speech as he campaigns for the presidency and fights criminal charges.

On Monday, they said they would soon ask Merchan again to set aside the case — promising they would file a lawsuit in the coming days seeking his recusal based on what they said were “changed circumstances and newly discovered evidence.”

Merchan refused defense demands to end the case last year when they first raised an issue of his daughter’s consulting work and questioned the $35 donations he made to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign done, including $15 to Biden.

Merchan said at the time that a state court ethics committee ruled that Loren Merchan’s work did not affect his impartiality. He ruled last September that he was confident in his “ability to be fair and impartial” and that Trump’s lawyers had “failed to demonstrate that there are concrete, or even realistic” reasons for refusal.

Trump’s original silence order, issued last Tuesday, had barred him from making public statements on his behalf or directing other people to make public statements on his behalf about jurors or potential witnesses in the hush money trial , like his lawyer-turned-nemesis Michael Cohen and porn star Stormy Daniels.

The order, which mirrors one from Trump’s criminal case over election interference in Washington, D.C., also prohibits any statement intended to hinder or harass the court’s staff, the prosecution team, or their families. These bans still apply, along with the newly issued ban on comments about Merchan and Bragg’s families.

Merchan, in expanding the gag order, also warned Trump that he would forfeit his right to see jurors’ names — which are otherwise hidden from the public — if he engages in conduct that threatens their safety or integrity.

“Once again, all citizens called upon to participate in these proceedings, whether as jurors, witnesses or in some other capacity, must now be concerned not only about their own personal safety, but also about the safety and possibility of personal attacks on their own security. loved ones,” Merchan wrote. “That reality cannot be overestimated.”

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