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Judge imposes gag order on Trump in NY criminal trial

The New York judge overseeing former President Trump’s hush money trial imposed a gag order on Trump on Tuesday, preventing him from publicly attacking witnesses, jurors and others during what is slated to be the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Judge Juan Merchan’s order still enables Trump to publicly attack the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

But it prevents the former president from making public statements about witnesses, other prosecutors, court staff and their family members “if those statements are made with the intent to materially interfere with” the case.

“The uncontested record reflecting the Defendant’s prior extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice,” Merchan wrote in his four-page ruling.

Tuesday’s gag order was issued weeks before Trump’s trial is scheduled to begin on April 15.

When Trump was originally charged last spring, the judge said he was not ready to gag Trump’s speech. But Merchan agreed to do so after receiving a request last month from Bragg’s office that cited Trump’s public comments attacking those involved in his legal woes.

Trump’s history of attacks against those involved in his legal matters is well documented. 

The former president has derided Merchan as a “Trump-hating judge” with a family full of “Trump haters” — an insult he also hurled at Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing his fraud case, and at the New York attorney general who brought it. He’s called the judge overseeing his federal election interference case “highly partisan” and the special counsel prosecuting it “deranged.” He has deemed the Fulton County district attorney prosecuting his case there “corrupt.”

Trump has also aimed his ire at the judges’ family members, including Engoron’s wife and son, and Merchan’s daughter. When Engoron issued a gag order in the fraud trial, he did not preclude attacks on his family, and it appears Tuesday’s gag order does not block insults to Merchan’s family.

Trump’s lawyers, meanwhile, have argued the gag order would be a violation of the former president’s First Amendment rights, saying he has a right to defend himself as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“Yet these extrajudicial statements went far beyond defending himself against ‘attacks’ by ‘public figures.’ Indeed, his statements were threatening, inflammatory, denigrating, and the targets of his statements ranged from local and federal officials, court and court staff, prosecutors and staff assigned to the cases, and private individuals including grand jurors performing their civic duty,” Merchan wrote. 

“The consequences of those statements included not only fear on the part of the individual targeted, but also the assignment of increased security resources to investigate threats and protect the individuals and family members thereof,” he continued.

A spokesman for the Trump campaign, Steven Cheung, said in a statement the judge’s gag order prevents the presidential candidate from “engaging in core political speech.”

“Worst of all, the gag order violates the civil rights of over 100 million Americans who follow President Trump and have a First Amendment right to receive and listen to his speech,” Cheung said. “American voters have a fundamental right to hear the uncensored voice of the leading candidate for the highest office in the land. President Trump will keep fighting for the our country and our Constitution.”

Merchan’s gag order is the third Trump has faced in recent months, following orders limiting his speech issued in his New York civil fraud case and his Washington, D.C., federal criminal case linked to efforts to subvert the 2020 election results.

Engoron imposed a gag order on Trump in the fraud case after the former president falsely derided the judge’s principal law clerk as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) “girlfriend.”

Trump sued Engoron over the order, but upper courts affirmed his ruling, and the state’s highest court declined to review it any further. The former president racked up $15,000 in fines for violating the order twice.

In the federal election interference case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan barred Trump from making statements targeting foreseeable witnesses, court staff or prosecutors. Trump appealed that order, too, but a federal appeals court sided with the trial judge.

The language of the new gag order in Trump’s hush money case mimics the D.C. gag order.

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