Trump hush money trial: Judge finds Trump in contempt again, threatens jail time

New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan on Monday held former President Donald Trump in contempt of court for a second time in his ongoing criminal trial, fining him another $1,000 for violating a gag order issued in the case.

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Earlier, Merchan held Trump in contempt for nine online posts about witnesses in the case and fined him $9,000 — $1,000 for each of gag order violations. Trump was ordered to take the posts down, and Merchan warned that he could face potential jail time if he continues to make comments about trial witnesses.

Merchan reiterated the warning in a decision issued Monday, writing that “because this is now the tenth time that this Court has found Defendant in criminal contempt, spanning three separate motions, it is apparent that monetary fines have not, and will not, suffice to deter Defendant from violating this Court’s lawful orders.”

“Defendant is hereby put on notice that if appropriate and warranted, future violations of its lawful orders will be punishable by incarceration,” he added.

Under New York law, a gag order violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail.

Last month, prosecutors accused Trump of violating an expanded gag order in the case with comments made in the hallway outside the courtroom and others made to reporters, court records show.

Trump called his former fixer, Michael Cohen, a liar several times while addressing reporters in the hallway outside the courtroom on April 22. Cohen, a former Trump ally who arranged the $130,000 hush-money payment at the heart of the case against Trump, is expected to be a star witness for the prosecution.

Later that day, Trump gave an interview in which he said the trial was being rushed and that the jury was made up of “95% democrats.”

In another interview the next day, the former president again called Cohen “a convicted liar” and said “he’s got no credibility whatsoever.”

At a media event on April 25, Trump called American Media Inc. CEO David Pecker — who was giving ongoing testimony in the trial — a “nice guy” and said, “He’s been very nice.”

Trump argued that the comments fell short of violating the gag order, saying his comments on Cohen were protected political speech, his statements about Pecker were not violations and his comment about the jury was too general to violate the order.

Merchan sided with Trump’s attorneys in part of his order, saying that he could not “find beyond a reasonable doubt” that Trump’s comments about Cohen were not protected political speech made in response to attacks by his former attorney. He also said that the former president’s comments on Pecker did not seem “beyond a reasonable doubt” to have “constituted a veiled threat to Mr. Pecker or to other witnesses.”

He sided with prosecutors in finding that Trump’s comments on the jury violated the gag order.

“This Court’s Expanded Order is lawful and unambiguous,” Merchan wrote. “Defendant violated the Order by making public statements about the jury and how it was selected. In doing so, Defendant not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones.”

In March, Merchan issued a gag order barring Trump from making public comments about witnesses, prosecutors and jurors in his criminal trial in New York. He later expanded the gag order to include family members after Trump attacked Merchan’s daughter on social media.

Trump is accused of illegally covering up hush money payments made to silence allegations of marital infidelity in an effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. He has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

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