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Trump fined $9,000 for violating gag order in NY hush-money trial

Jacob Fischler, Missouri Independent,

Former President Donald Trump defied a gag order in his New York state hush-money trial by posting attacks on likely witnesses on his social media platform and campaign website, the judge in the case ruled Tuesday.

Judge Juan M. Merchan fined Trump $9,000 for nine violations of an order barring him from making public statements about “reasonably foreseeable witnesses” or prospective jurors in the case, in which Trump is accused of disguising payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels to conceal an alleged affair.

Merchan also ordered the offending posts to be taken down by 2:15 p.m. Eastern Tuesday.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, had posted to his social media site, Truth Social, and to his campaign website comments about Daniels and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, who prosecutors say delivered a $130,000 payment to Daniels.

Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify for the prosecution in the criminal trial, the first involving a former U.S. president.

Trump did not deny posting any of the items, but said they were in response to political attacks by Cohen and Daniels. Merchan’s order allowed Trump to respond to political attacks.

Prosecutors had asked Merchan to fine Trump for 10 statements, but the judge gave Trump a pass on the first post in question, which Merchan said could be interpreted as a response to tweets from Cohen that could be considered political attacks.

Merchan said Tuesday he was broadly interpreting political attacks out of deference to Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech, which he said was especially important as Trump runs again for the White House.

“It is critically important that Defendant’s legitimate free speech rights not be curtailed, that he be able to fully campaign for the office which he seeks and that he be able to respond and defend himself against political attacks,” Merchan wrote. “For that reason, this Court exercised discretion when it crafted the Expanded Order and delayed issuing it until the eve of trial.”

Reposts as endorsements

Trump also argued that “reposts” from other accounts should not count as his own speech.

Merchan roundly rejected that argument, noting Trump has bragged about the size of his audience on Truth Social and fully controlled its content.

“There can be no doubt whatsoever, that Defendant’s intent and purpose when reposting, is to communicate to his audience that he endorses and adopts the posted statement as his own,” Merchan said. “It is counterintuitive and indeed absurd, to read the Expanded Order to not proscribe statements that Defendant intentionally selected and published to maximize exposure.”

Tuesday’s order also warns Trump “that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations” of the gag order and warned that Merchan may impose jail time for further violations.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who is the ranking minority member on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, told reporters in Washington Tuesday that he did not expect the ruling to lead Trump to change his behavior.

“I don’t think he’ll take it seriously, unless he’s going to be held overnight or something like that,” Raskin said. “He acts with utter contempt towards the rule of law.”

Raskin, a constitutional law professor, was the lead impeachment manager during Trump’s second impeachment, which dealt with the then-president’s efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. Raskin also was a member of the House Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, Attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The trial resumed Tuesday with testimony from Gary Farro, a former banker of Cohen’s, after a break Monday.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

Jacob Fischler covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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