Trump trial updates: Judge fines Trump, threatens jail time for gag order violations as hush money testimony continues

Donald Trump
Donald Trump on trial. (Victor J. Blue/Pool via Getty Images)

Judge Juan Merchan fined former President Donald Trump $9,000 for social media posts the judge ruled had violated the gag order Trump had received in the hush money trial. This is Yahoo News' succinct update on the criminal and civil cases against Trump. Here are the latest developments

In a written order handed down at the start of Tuesday’s court proceedings, Merchan announced fines of $1,000 each for nine posts made on Trump’s Truth Social feed that he said violated his gag order barring attacks on potential witnesses in the hush money trial. He also threatened to jail Trump for future violations and ordered him to remove the offending posts. As the testimony regarding Trump’s payment of $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels continued, the posts in question were deleted from Trump’s feed.

'Willful violations': Calling Trump’s explanation that he did not violate the gag order because was simply reposting messages about potential witnesses “counterintuitive and absurd,” Merchan handed down $9,000 in fines and made clear that his patience had run out. “The court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders,” Merchan wrote, adding that he was prepared to “impose an incarceratory sentence” [jail time] should Trump violate the gag order again. On the bright side for Trump, Merchan ruled that he could be excused from court to attend his son Barron’s high school graduation on Friday, May 17. Court will not be in session that day, Merchan said.

Let’s make a deal: Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Daniels in negotiations with the National Enquirer. Both women came forward to sell their story of an extramarital affair with Trump. Davidson’s testimony appeared to corroborate last week’s answers from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker about the tabloid’s efforts to procure potentially damaging stories about Trump.

"I have a blockbuster trump story,” Davidson wrote in a text message to National Enquirer editor in chief Dylan Howard about McDougal's account. "Talk 1st thing. I will get you more than ANYONE for it,” Howard replied. Unbeknownst to Davidson, however, Pecker had entered into a catch or kill agreement with Trump to purchase and then bury possibly damaging stories during the 2016 presidential election.

But after the public release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is heard boasting that his fame affords him the ability to sexually assault women with impunity, interest in Daniels’s story about an affair with Trump “reached a crescendo,” Davidson testified. "Trump is f***ed. Wave the white flag. It’s over people!” Davidson texted National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard. Cohen then sought to pay Daniels directly in order to buy her silence, and prosecutors showed jurors an email sent by Davidson to Cohen regarding the "settlement sum" of $130,000.

'Great level of frustration': Davidson testified that after reaching a deal with Cohen to pay Daniels, the money was not sent, causing him to send an email to Cohen’s address at the Trump Organization stating that Daniels was prepared to cancel the agreement.

"I think you can tell by these emails I was sending him there was a great level of frustration by me and my client," Davidson testified. "I let him know that the level of dissatisfaction was quite high. He [Cohen] stated, 'Goddamn it. I’ll just do it myself.'" While defense lawyers have already tried to portray Cohen as having acted on his own regarding the payment to Daniels, Davidson testified that he believed Cohen, who he often described in unflattering terms, was acting at Trump’s direction. "It was part of his identity and he let you know it, every opportunity he could, that he was working for Donald Trump,” Davidson said of Cohen.

More witness testimony: Prior to Davidson’s testimony, prosecutors finished questioning former First Republic banker Gary Farro about the limited liability company account he and Cohen opened that was used to pay Daniels $130,000. Prosecutors also called Robert Browning, executive director of C-SPAN’s archives, who testified about the veracity of some video clips featuring Trump, and Phillip Thompson, who worked at a company that documented Trump’s deposition in the civil defamation case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll.

Full appeals court denies Trump motion to delay trial: On Tuesday, a full, five-judge panel of the New York Court of Appeals denied Trump’s request to delay the hush money trial on the grounds that Merchan had refused to recuse himself and to give Trump time appeal a lower court ruling that presidential immunity did not protect him from prosecution in the hush money case.

Merchan will review more possible gag order violations Thursday at 9:30 a.m. ET. The prosecution will then resume its case against Trump at 10 a.m. ET.