New York court rejects Trump’s appeal of gag order in “hush money” trial

A New York court on Tuesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to lift the gag order limiting what he can say about those involved in his ongoing criminal trial, saying the order does not violate Trump’s First Amendment rights.

Justice Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing Trump’s trial on 34 counts of falsifying business records, issued the original order in March, barring Trump from discussing likely witnesses, jurors, attorneys and court staff involved in the case. Merchan later expanded it to apply to his daughter.

Trump was not prevented from criticizing Merchan or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

In a five-page ruling on Tuesday, the appellate division, first department of the New York Supreme Court, found that Merchan “properly determined that [Trump’s] public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses in this case.”

“We find that Justice Merchan properly weighed petitioner’s First Amendment Rights against the court’s historical commitment to ensuring the fair administration of justice in criminal cases, and the right of persons related or tangentially related to the criminal proceedings from being free from threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm,” the ruling said.

Former President Donald Trump sits next to his lawyer Todd Blanche as he arrives for his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump sits next to his lawyer Todd Blanche as he arrives for his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024. Craig Ruttle / Getty Images

Merchan has held Trump in contempt of court for violating the order 10 times. Last week, he warned Trump that he could be sent to jail for future violations.

The latest violation concerned comments Trump made about the political make-up of the jury. In a written order on May 6, Merchan said Trump’s comments “not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones.”

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche asked Merchan to modify the gag order in court last week to allow Trump to “respond publicly to what happened in court the last day and a half,” referring to testimony by Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who received $130,000 in 2016 in exchange for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies. 

Merchan rejected Blanche’s request, saying the order is in place “because of the nature of the attacks, the vitriol” from Trump.

“Your client’s track record speaks for itself,” Merchan said. 

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