Judge in hush money case gives Trump a partial gag order

By | March 27, 2024

The judge presiding over the criminal case against Donald Trump in New York imposed a partial gag order on the former president on Tuesday.

State Judge Juan Merchan’s ruling orders Trump to “refrain” from “making or inciting others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses regarding their potential participation” in the corporate data falsification case, as well as about individual prosecutors, court personnel, jurors, and potential jurors.

The order does not apply to Judge or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The judge said the step was now necessary because “the defendant’s previous extrajudicial statements pose a sufficient risk to the administration of justice” and “no less restrictive means exists to prevent such a risk.”

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung called the order “unconstitutional” and argued that it prevents Trump from “engaging in core political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”

Trump’s lawyers had argued in court filings that because he is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, he should have “unfettered access to the voting public to respond to attacks from political opponents.”

Merchan said he was “not convinced” by these arguments and that Trump’s public comments on the matter “went far beyond defending himself from attacks.”

The judge noted Trump’s previous statements in the case and others included “threatening, inflammatory” and “derogatory” language and said similar attacks would “undoubtedly risk impeding the orderly administration of the Court.”

Merchan also suggested he had firsthand knowledge that he was the subject of Trump’s comments, citing “the nature and impact of the statements made against this Court and a family member” among others.

The ruling was made hours after Trump criticized the judge, the judge’s daughter Bragg and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a key witness in the case, on his social media platform Truth Social. The post called Cohen a “liar and criminal” and also called a former prosecutor in the case, Mark Pomerantz, a “dirtbag lawyer.”

Cohen said in a statement that he was grateful for the judge’s actions.

“I would like to thank Judge Merchan for imposing the gag order as I have been relentlessly attacked by Donald’s MAGA supporters,” he said. “Nevertheless, knowing Donald as well as I do, he will try to defy the gag order by enlisting others around him to do his bidding, regardless of the consequences.”

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to criminal charges including making hush money deals for women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump.

The prosecutors’ case centers on payments Trump made to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 he paid one of the women, adult film star Stormy Daniels, to keep quiet about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Trump has denied sleeping with Daniels, but he has admitted to paying Cohen back. He has denied pleading guilty to charges that he “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York corporate records.”

The case will go to trial on April 15.

Merchan said that “given that the eve of trial is upon us, there is no doubt that the immediacy of the risk of harm is now of paramount importance.”

Tuesday’s ruling is the third partial gag order Trump has faced in the past year. In the civil fraud trial that concluded in January, New York State Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump and his lawyers not to talk about his clerk or other court staff after the former president insisted the clerk was biased, sparking a “tidal wave” led to threats. against her.

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is presiding over Trump’s federal election interference case in Washington DC, issued a ruling in October banning him from destroying witnesses, individual prosecutors and court staff.

Chutkan said Trump “could criticize the current administration and continue to express his belief that this prosecution is politically motivated.” But, she added, his First Amendment freedoms “do not permit him to launch a pretrial smear campaign against participating government employees, their families and expected witnesses.”

An appeals court later narrowed the order, giving Trump some leeway to speak out if a high-profile witness made disparaging comments about him. That case is on hold while the Supreme Court weighs Trump’s presidential immunity defense.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office had asked Merchan for the partial gag order last month, arguing that Trump “has a long history of making public and inflammatory comments about the participants in various legal proceedings against him, including jurors, witnesses, lawyers and court staff. .”

“These comments, as well as the inevitable reactions they evoke from the defendant’s followers and allies, pose a significant and imminent threat to the orderly conduct of these criminal proceedings and a significant potential for causing material prejudice,” Bragg’s office said at the time.

Merchan passed on two other orders on Tuesday.

In one, he rejected Trump’s efforts to overturn a new trial for filing preliminary motions. Merchan had changed the proceedings after Trump’s lawyers tried to raise a presidential immunity defense and asked the judge to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court ruled in the federal election interference case. Trump’s request came just over two weeks before the hush money case was originally set to go to trial.

In response, Merchan said both sides should ask him for permission to file other motions. Trump’s lawyers argued that this would violate their client’s right to a fair trial. Merchan disagreed, saying he has the “inherent authority” to do so.

In the third ruling, Merchan denied Trump’s motion asking for documents to be unsealed and for public documents in the case to be immediately visible on the court docket. Noting that there is a protective order that prohibits certain information from being released publicly, the judge said that “the Court is of the opinion that everything normally maintained in a court file is currently in the public record.”

“To the extent that the defendant believes that anything normally enforced that is not subject to the protective order or applicable law is not in the court record, he must disclose the document to the court and to the people. The court will consider all objections and make a ruling. about this,” Merchan added.

News organizations, including the NBC News Group, had asked the judge to file the motions more quickly in the public docket and also to put emails between the parties on the docket. The judge did not address the letter from the media organizations in Tuesday’s ruling.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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