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Judge threatens Trump with jail time over future gag order violations

The judge overseeing former President Trump’s hush money case held him in contempt Tuesday for violating a gag order nine times.

Judge Juan Merchan fined Trump $9,000 over his recent posts on Truth Social and campaign website attacking prospective jurors and prosecutors’ expected star witnesses, warning the former president that additional violations could result in jail time.

“Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote in his ruling, ordering Trump to remove the offending posts from Truth Social and his campaign website.

A hearing on the matter grew heated between the judge and Trump’s attorney, with Merchan telling Todd Blanche he was “losing all credibility” with the court.

Tuesday’s ruling came one week after that hearing and just before the second week of trial testimony kicked off.

Trump regularly rails against his perceived foes in his legal entanglements, leading his hush money judge, at prosecutors’ request, to place restrictions on Trump’s speech as the case headed to trial.

The former president is barred from making public statements about witnesses concerning their involvement in the case, and jurors. Trump also cannot attack court staff, line prosecutors or their families as well as the families of the judge and district attorney with the intent to materially interfere with the case.

Last week’s hearing came after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) office claimed Trump violated the gag order 10 times in the days leading up to and during jury selection. They urged the judge to fine the former president $1,000 for each violation and demand he take the posts down.

“What happened here is precisely what this order was designed to prevent, and this defendant doesn’t care,” Assistant District Attorney Chris Conroy said at last week’s hearing.   

Most of the posts concerned Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-fixer and personal lawyer who has since turned against his former boss and is expected to be a star witness for prosecutors.  

Trump repeatedly reposted a New York Post op-ed authored by Jonathan Turley, a prominent legal commentator who has criticized prosecutors for bringing the hush money case, that cast Cohen as a “serial perjurer.” 

In two of the 10 posts at issue, Trump went after Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who received the $130,000 hush payment that is at the center of the case. In one post, Trump called Daniels and Cohen “two sleaze bags.”

However, in the latter post, the judge determined the gag order was not violated, writing that the “tenuous correlation” of whether the comment was directly tied to two previous posts gave him “pause.” 

The judge also found Trump violated the gag order when he quoted a Fox News host who said “They are catching undercover Liberal Activists lying to the Judge in order to get on the Trump Jury.” 

Trump has forcefully opposed the gag order, maintaining that it’s a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech and he’s merely responding to political attacks against him. 

He has appealed the gag order, but it remains in effect for now.

Trump’s lawyers had also argued that many of the posts at issue were merely reposts of other people and not Trump’s own words. The judge rejected that argument, though he noted it appears to be a novel issue.

“It is counterintuitive and indeed absurd, to read the Expanded Order to not proscribe statements that Defendant intentionally selected and published to maximize exposure,” Merchan wrote.

“This is not to say that a repost will always be deemed a statement of the reposter, as context is directly relevant,” he added. “However, here, under the unique facts and circumstances of this case, the only credible finding is that the reposts constitute statements of the Defendant.”

Prosecutors have separately accused Trump of violating the gag order an additional four times. The judge has not yet ruled on that request. He could impose up to $1,000 fine per violation, the judge could order Trump to spend 30 days in jail. A hearing is set for Thursday to discuss those alleged violations.

Trump has faced gag orders — and fines — in his other legal matters.

In his New York civil fraud trial, the judge imposed a gag order on Trump that blocked him from making public remarks about court staff. The former president racked up $15,000 in fines for skirting that judge’s directive, and when Trump was asked to take the stand to explain himself, the judge determined his testimony rang “hollow and untrue.”

Trump also faces a gag order in Washington, D.C., barring him from attacking key witnesses or prosecutors — minus special counsel Jack Smith — in his federal election interference case.

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