02 April 2024

Trump’s gag order expanded after social media posts about judge’s daughter

02 April 2024

The judge in Donald Trump’s April 15 hush-money criminal trial has declared family off-limits to the former president’s rancour.

On Monday, a gag order was expanded just days after Mr Trump assailed the judge’s daughter and made false claims about her on social media.

Manhattan judge Juan M Merchan amended a week-old ban on Mr Trump making public statements about witnesses, jurors and others connected with 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 criticise Mr Merchan and another key figure in the case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, an elected Democrat who’s leading the hush-money prosecution. But under the revised gag order, the DA’s family is now off-limits from his rhetoric, too.

Mr Merchan wrote: “This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose.

“It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game,’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

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

Mr Trump’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, declined comment.

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office also declined comment.

Mr Trump’s hush-money case, one of four criminal cases against him, centres on allegations that he falsely logged payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen as legal fees when they were for Mr Cohen’s work covering up negative stories about Mr Trump during the 2016 campaign.

That included money Mr Cohen paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels on Mr Trump’s behalf so she would not publicise her claim of a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Mr Trump pleaded not guilty last April to 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, though there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in jail time.

He denies having sex with Ms Daniels and his lawyers have said that the payments to Mr Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not part of any coverup.

Mr Trump touched off a firestorm last Wednesday — the day after the original gag order was issued — when he suggested on Truth Social, without evidence, that Mr Merchan’s rulings were swayed by his daughter’s political consulting interests and wrongly claimed that she had posted a photo on social media showing him behind bars.

Mr Trump complained that the judge was “wrongfully attempting 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 by working to ‘Get Trump'”.

Mr Trump’s posts put Mr Merchan in an extraordinary position as a judge and a father.

Just two weeks before jury selection in the historic first-ever criminal trial of a former president, Mr Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors wrangled in a series of court filings over the bounds of the original gag order and whether Mr Trump had overstepped them.

Mr Merchan concluded: “It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceeding.

“The threat is very real. Admonitions are not enough, nor is reliance on self-restraint.”

Mr Merchan responded after prosecutors asked him to “clarify or confirm” the scope of the gag order and to direct Mr Trump to “immediately desist from attacks on family members”.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass implored Mr Merchan to “make abundantly clear” to Mr Trump that the gag order protects the judge’s family, Mr Bragg’s family and the family members of all other individuals it covers.

He urged Mr Merchan to warn Mr Trump “that his recent conduct is contumacious and direct him to immediately desist”.

Mr Trump’s lawyers fought the gag order and its expansion, citing constitutional concerns about restricting Mr Trump’s speech further while he is campaigning for president and fighting criminal charges.

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

Mr Merchan refused the defence’s demands to exit the case last year when they first made an issue of his daughter’s consulting work and questioned 35 dollars (£27) worth of donations he had made to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign, including 15 dollars to Mr Biden.

Mr Merchan said then that a state court ethics panel found Loren Merchan’s work had no bearing on his impartiality.

He ruled last September that he was certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial” and that Mr Trump’s lawyers had “failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete or even realistic” reasons for recusal.

Mr Trump’s original gag order, issued last Tuesday, had barred him from either making or directing other people to make public statements on his behalf about jurors or potential witnesses in the hush-money trial, such as his lawyer-turned-nemesis Mr Cohen and Ms Daniels.

The order, echoing one in Mr Trump’s Washington, DC, election interference criminal case, also prohibits any statements meant to interfere with or harass the court’s staff, prosecution team or their families.

Those prohibitions still apply, along with the newly minted ban on comments about Mr Merchan’s and Mr Bragg’s families.

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

“Again, all citizens called upon to participate in these proceedings, whether as a juror, a witness or in some other capacity, must now concern themselves not only with their own personal safety but with the safety and the potential for personal attacks upon their loved ones,” Mr Merchan wrote.

“That reality cannot be overstated.”

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