Trump Barred From Attacking Jurors, Lawyers in Hush-Money Trial

(Bloomberg) -- The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s first criminal trial issued a gag order barring the former president from making comments about jurors, prosecutors and potential witnesses, citing a threat to their safety.

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New York Justice Juan Merchan said the order sought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is justified by Trump’s “longstanding history” of using social media to attack individuals involved in the array of civil and criminal cases against him. Crucially, the ruling will prevent comments “targeting jurors and exposing them to an atmosphere of intimidation” at a trial starting April 15. He’s also barred from directing others to make the comments.

“The uncontested record reflecting the defendant’s prior extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice” to warrant a gag order, Merchan said Tuesday, adding that the order had been “narrowly tailored.”

Trump is accused in the case of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election, part of an alleged scheme to keep voters in the dark about his purported conduct with women. It’s one of four criminal prosecutions against the former president, including two that allege he conspired to overturn the 2020 election after he lost to Joe Biden.

Trump’s behavior has been a constant concern for federal, state and local prosecutors given the influence he has over his supporters and his alleged incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the US Capitol. Before he was indicted by Bragg last year, Trump warned of “death and destruction” if he was charged, called the district attorney a “degenerate psychopath” and assailed former Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen, the prosecution’s star witness.

Merchan’s order won’t prevent Trump from campaigning or denying wrongdoing in the case. But it does mean that Bragg, Cohen and anyone else set to testify are off limits for the stump speeches and social media posts the Republican frontrunner has used to mobilize his supporters.

$15,000 in Fines

It also increases the risk of punishment for Trump should he violate the gag order — something he’s done during earlier trials — particularly in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud lawsuit over his asset valuations. Last year, the Manhattan judge who presided over that case fined him $15,000 for twice violating a gag order he imposed to protect a law clerk.

James won the trial and Trump was hit a $454 million penalty, which he’s appealing. Trump has until April 4 to post a $175 million bond to put the verdict on hold while he challenges it.

Trump argued he has refrained from making inflammatory remarks about people involved in the hush money case. But Justice Merchan was “unpersuaded,” saying the former president undermined his argument one day earlier at a press conference, when Trump launched a personal attack on a prosecutor by claiming he was part of the “radical left.”.

Other witnesses in the case who’ve drawn Trump’s ire include Stormy Daniels, the porn star who Cohen paid $130,000 to keep quiet about her claim that she’d had an affair with Trump. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused of reimbursing Cohen in 2017 by falsely claiming the payments were for legal fees.

In early March, Merchan barred public disclosure of jurors’ names to protect them from any backlash over their role in the politically charged case.

‘Unfettered Responses’

Trump’s lawyers argued a gag order wasn’t necessary, calling the restriction unconstitutional and an unlawful restraint upon his free speech rights. They argued Bragg’s office was trying to muzzle Trump as he campaigns for reelection.

“The voters have the right to listen to President Trump’s unfettered responses to those attacks — not just one side of that debate,” defense lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles said.

In the hush-money case, Merchan last year warned Trump he could be barred from attending the trial if he “became disruptive.”

“I do have the authority to remove you from the courtroom and continue in your absence,” Merchan said at the time.

During a defamation trial in January in a suit brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, US District Judge Lewis Kaplan threatened to expel Trump after the former president loudly complained in court during Carroll’s testimony.

Manhattan prosecutors said they modeled their gag order on one upheld on appeal in the federal case against Trump over the 2020 election. In that case, Trump was banned from speaking about witnesses expected to testify. But Trump was still allowed to criticize Special Counsel Jack Smith, who indicted him, to describe the prosecution as a political vendetta and to criticize the Biden administration and the Justice Department.

(Updates with more detail starting in second paragraph)

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