Judge Delivers Another Decision in Trump, Stormy Daniels Case

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author’s opinion.


Justice Juan M. Merchan of the New York Supreme Court has extended his gag order, which forbids former President Donald Trump from disparaging witnesses, prosecutors, or court employees in the criminal trial involving “hush money,” to include his own and District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s families.

Trump has made several remarks about Justice Merchan’s daughter in recent days, labeling her a “Rabid Trump Hater” and accusing her of sharing anti-Trump pictures on social media. The New York Times noted that the gag order was extended at Bragg’s request.

“The average observer, must now, after hearing Defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well,” wrote Merchan. “Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

He continued, “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. That reality cannot be overstated.”

Last week, Judge Merchan rejected the defense’s request to postpone the Manhattan trial until the summer and set the start date for April 15.

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This decision echoes a gag order in Trump’s criminal case about election interference in Washington, D.C.

“Given that the eve of trial is upon us, it is without question that the imminency of the risk of harm is now paramount,” Merchan wrote in a four-page decision granting the prosecution’s request for what it deemed a “narrowly tailored” gag order.

“The judge said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s statements have induced fear and necessitated added security measures to protect his targets and investigate threats. Trump’s lawyers fought a gag order, warning it would amount to an unconstitutional and unlawful prior restraint on his free speech rights. Merchan, who had long resisted imposing a gag order, said his obligation to ensure the integrity of the trial outweighed First Amendment concerns,” the Associated Press reported.

In a court filing, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles said: “President Trump’s political opponents have, and will continue to, attack him based on this case. The voters have the right to listen to President Trump’s unfettered responses to those attacks — not just one side of that debate.”

The gag order forbids Trump from speaking publicly about potential witnesses and jurors in the hush-money case or from ordering others to do so.

It also forbids making any remarks intended to intimidate or cause distress to the prosecution team, court employees, or their families.

It does not prohibit remarks about elected Democrat Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg or Merchan, whom Trump called “a Trump-hating judge” with a family full of “Trump haters” following his arraignment last year.

However, it serves as a warning to Trump that disparaging remarks about significant players in the case, such as Stormy Daniels, the porn star, or Michael Cohen, his erstwhile attorney turned adversary, will not be accepted.

Trump might be imprisoned, fined, or even held in contempt of court for a violation.

Cohen, Trump’s former “fixer” who will serve as a key prosecution witness against Trump, released a statement saying, “I want to thank Judge Merchan for imposing the gag order as I have been under relentless assault from Donald’s MAGA supporters. Nevertheless, knowing Donald as well as I do, he will seek to defy the gag order by employing others within his circle to do his bidding, regardless of consequence.”

The gag order strengthens already-existing limitations that forbid Trump from disparaging witnesses in the case using evidence.

The allegations at the heart of Trump’s hush-money case are that he misrepresented payments to Cohen—who was then his personal attorney—as legal fees on the books of his business, even though they were actually for Cohen’s assistance in disguising unfavorable stories about him during the 2016 campaign.

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Among them was the $130,000 he had given Daniels on Trump’s behalf to keep her quiet about her alleged previous sexual encounter with him.

In April of last year, Trump entered a not-guilty plea to 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony that carries a maximum four-year prison sentence. However, a conviction does not ensure that Trump will serve any time behind bars.

He denies ever having sex with Daniels, and according to his attorneys, Cohen’s payments were just reasonable legal fees and had nothing to do with any sort of cover-up.

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