Appeals court rejects Trump’s attempt to throw out gag order in hush money trial

Donald Trump has failed to overturn a gag order that blocks him from publicly attacking witnesses and jurors during his criminal hush money trial in New York.

On Tuesday, a New York appeals court rejected Mr Trump’s request to throw out the gag order saying Justice Juan Merchan “properly determined that petitioner’s public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses”

Since the start of the trial, Mr Trump has repeatedly raged against his lawyer-turned-nemesis Michael Cohen, as well as the judge and prosecutors who brought the case against him. Judge Merchan implemented a gag order to protect witnesses and the integrity of the trial.

Mr Trump and his lawyers argued the gag order violated the former president’s First Amendment right. A state appeals court had already rejected Mr Trump’s attempt to stall the trial completely while he challenged the constitutionality of the gag order.

Last week, lawyers for the former president filed a motion asking a state appeals court to issue a ruling quickly on his challenge or to get permission to appeal to the state’s highest appeals court.

That motion followed a ruling from the trial judge who warned Mr Trump could be jailed for any future violations of the gag order, which he was already found to have violated 10 times within the trial’s first few weeks.

Former President Donald Trump speaks before start of proceedings in his trial at the Supreme Court of the State of New York, in New York, New York, USA, 14 May 2024. (EPA)

On 30 April, moments before a second week of witness testimony began, Justice Merchan fined Mr Trump $9,000 for a series of statements attacking trial witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

Manhattan prosecutors had accused Mr Trump of “knowingly and wilfully breaching the crystal clear, unequivocal lines drawn up by the court.”

One week later, on 6 May, following another motion from Manhattan prosecutors, Judge Merchan fined Mr Trump another $1,000 for a statement criticizing the makeup of the jury.

He also warned Mr Trump that he will consider putting the former president in jail for any future violations.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent,” Judge Merchan told him on Monday. “It’s important to understand that the last thing I want to do is to put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president, as well.”

Jail remains “truly a last resort” that would disrupt the proceedings, court staff and law enforcement, said the judge, adding that “the magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me.”

“But at the end of the day I have a job to do, and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the justice system,” he said. “Your continued violations … threaten to interfere with the administration of justice, and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

Justice Juan Merchan (AP)

The judge and chief prosecutors in the case are not protected by the gag, but their families as well as jurors and other court staff are off limits.

Mr Trump is criminally charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to allegedly cover up reimbursement payments to Cohen as “legal expenses” for paying off Ms Daniels, whose story of an alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump in 2006 threatened to derail his bid for the presidency in 2016, according to prosecutors.

He has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

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