Manhattan Prosecutors Allege Trump Violated Gag Order

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart, File)

Manhattan prosecutors alleged on Friday that Donald Trump breached a gag order in his hush-money criminal case earlier this week by attacking the judge’s daughter and spreading false information about her on social media.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office urged Judge Juan M. Merchan to clarify the extent of the gag order, which he issued on Tuesday, and to instruct the former president and presumptive Republican nominee to refrain from targeting family members.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, in a letter to Merchan, asserted that the gag order explicitly prohibits statements intended to disrupt or harass the court’s staff or their families, making Trump’s comments about the judge’s daughter impermissible. Steinglass advocated for consequences for any future violations by Trump.

Trump’s legal team argued that the D.A.’s office is misinterpreting the order and insisted that it does not prevent him from discussing Loren Merchan, a political consultant whose firm has collaborated on campaigns for Trump’s opponent, President Joe Biden, and other Democrats.

In response to the prosecution’s letter, Trump’s lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles wrote to Merchan, stating, “The Court cannot ‘direct’ President Trump to do something that the gag order does not require.” They argued against the prosecution’s request to clarify or confirm the meaning of the gag order, asserting that such action would constitute an expansion of its scope.

The trial, centered on allegations of Trump’s falsification of payment records to suppress negative publicity during his 2016 presidential campaign, is slated to commence on April 15. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records, vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

In his recent posts on the Truth Social platform, Trump alleged that Loren Merchan profits from efforts aimed at undermining him, falsely claiming that she posted a social media photo depicting him incarcerated.

A spokesperson for New York’s state court system refuted Trump’s claim, stating that the social media account he referenced no longer belonged to Loren Merchan. The account on X, formerly Twitter, “is not linked to her email address, nor has she posted under that screenname since she deleted the account. Rather, it represents the reconstitution, last April, and manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned,” court spokesperson Al Baker clarified.

In his posts on Truth Social, Trump criticized the gag order, labeling it as “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional.” He accused Judge Merchan of attempting to violate his First Amendment right to speak out against what he perceives as the politicization of law enforcement by Democratic opponents.

The gag order, requested by prosecutors, prohibits Trump from making or directing others to make public statements on his behalf regarding jurors or potential witnesses in the hush-money trial, including figures like his former lawyer Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Additionally, it bars statements intended to interfere with or harass the court’s staff, prosecution team, or their families. While Trump can still criticize Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass seeks to extend this restriction to include Trump’s family.

In his letter, Steinglass urged the judge to clarify to Trump that the gag order extends to protecting his family, the families of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and the families of all other individuals covered by the order. He requested Merchan to caution Trump about his recent behavior, labeling it as contumacious, and direct him to cease immediately.

A violation of the gag order could lead to Trump being held in contempt of court, facing fines, or even imprisonment.

Trump’s legal team opposed such warnings, citing constitutional concerns regarding further restrictions on Trump’s speech while he campaigns for president and defends against criminal charges. They indicated that if prosecutors insist on pursuing the issue, they would seek to litigate it fully, potentially complicating trial preparations as jury selection is scheduled to commence in a little over two weeks.

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