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Judge Merchan fines Trump $9,000 for violating gag order in criminal trial

In World
April 30, 2024

Judge Juan Merchan found Donald Trump in contempt on Tuesday for violating a gag order nine times, imposing $1,000 fines for each violation and warning the defendant about the possibility of jailtime for further violations.

Manhattan prosecutors had asked the judge to hold Trump in contempt for alleged violations of the order barring him from speaking out against witnesses, jurors, and others.

Under state law, Merchan could fine Trump up to $1,000 or jail him for up to 30 days (or both, the judge noted in his ruling). The state asked the judge to fine Trump and instruct him to take down offending posts. Notably, the prosecutor in court last week said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office wasn’t yet asking for incarceration and argued that Trump seemed to be angling for that.

The fines are due by close of business on Friday. The judge also ordered Trump to remove the seven offending posts from his Truth Social account and the two offending posts from his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

Merchan noted that he was limited by the $1,000 maximum for each violation, which may not do much to deter a wealthy defendant. Given the lack of discretion to impose a more serious fine for Trump, the judge wrote that he “must therefore consider whether in some instances, jail may be a necessary punishment.” He explicitly warned the defendant in his ruling Tuesday that he won’t tolerate continued willful violations and that he will jail him if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances.

Prosecutors raised the former president’s posts on social media and his campaign website as violating Merchan’s order. One of the allegedly offending posts was one in which Trump purportedly quoted Fox News host Jesse Watters as saying, “They are catching undercover Liberal Activists lying to the Judge in order to get on the Trump Jury.”

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s post wasn’t a repost but apparently typed out and distributed to his followers. Notably, Trump didn’t simply quote Watters but added his own language to the purported quote.

When it comes to juror-related statements, Merchan’s order bars Trump from “making or directing others to make public statements about any prospective juror or any juror in this criminal proceeding.” As for witnesses, the order bars Trump from making statements about their “potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding.” The prosecution also raised the prospect of further violations for comments Trump made against Michael Cohen, who’s set to be a key state witness at trial. Merchan’s ruling comes as yet another gag order hearing is set for Thursday on further alleged violations.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche argued that the defendant didn’t violate Merchan’s order and complained that it’s Trump who is facing attacks from witnesses, citing Cohen and Stormy Daniels, another potentially crucial state witness. Blanche also said some posts didn’t violate the gag order because they were reposts. Merchan, reportedly frustrated with Blanche during the hearing, observed that Blanche’s repost argument doesn’t apply to the Watters post. The judge told Blanche that he was losing all credibility.

Merchan’s ruling came as the second week of testimony in the case begins. Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

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This article was originally published on MSNBC.com

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