Trump hush money trial: Judge finds Trump in contempt for violating gag order

Former President Donald Trump speaks outside the courthouse where he is currently on trial.

NEW YORK — New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan on Tuesday found former President Donald Trump in contempt for violating a gag order issued in his state criminal trial, fining him $9,000 and warning him against further violations.

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In a written decision, Merchan said that prosecutors “have established the elements of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt” for seven posts made on Trump’s Truth Social platform and two posts on his campaign website.

He wrote that Trump “violated the Order by making social media posts about known witnesses pertaining to their participation in this criminal proceeding and by making public statements about jurors in this criminal proceeding.”

The judge ordered Trump to pay $1,000 for each of the nine gag order violations and to take the offending posts offline by Tuesday afternoon. He added that he “must consider whether in some instances, jail may be a necessary punishment” if the fines fail to convince Trump to adhere to the gag order.

“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.

Under New York law, Trump faced a maximum $1,000 fine and up to 30 days in jail for each violation of the gag order. Prosecutors asked that Trump be fined and warned that he could face jailtime, according to The New York Times.

At a hearing last week, prosecutor Christopher Conroy detailed eight posts on Trump’s Truth Social platform and two on his official campaign website that appeared to have violated a gag order in the case. Conroy also pointed to comments Trump made attacking his former attorney Michael Cohen — who is expected to be a star witness in the prosecution — outside the courtroom during proceedings, the Times reported.

The posts in question included attacks against Cohen and Stormy Daniels, the adult film star whose $130,000 hush money deal is central to the criminal case against Trump. They also included a post referring to Daniels’ former attorney, Michael Avenatti, although Merchan found Tuesday that it was not clear the post violated the gag order.

Last week, Conroy said in court that Trump “willfully and flagrantly” violated the gag order, Politico reported.

“He knows about the order, he knows what he’s allowed to do, and he does it anyway,” Conroy added, according to the Times.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche denied the allegation, arguing that his client’s comments were in response to “a barrage of political attacks,” the newspaper reported. He also argued that reposts on social media did not violate the gag order or qualify as an endorsement of the content, according to NBC News.

However, his argument did not appear to sway Merchan last week, who warned at one point that Blanche was “losing all credibility with the court,” CNN reported.

Last month, 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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