Prosecutors seek Trump gag order in NY hush money criminal case

By Thomson Reuters Feb 26, 2024 | 1:56 PM

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Prosecutors have asked a judge for a gag order to restrict Donald Trump from making public comments about witnesses or exposing the identities of jurors in the former president’s New York trial involving hush money paid to a porn star, court filings made public on Monday showed.

The requests by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg noted Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency in the Nov. 5 U.S. election, is scheduled to go on trial in state court in Manhattan starting on March 25, one of four criminal cases against him. He has pleaded not guilty.

He is accused of falsifying business records to cover up the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to keep her silent about a sexual encounter she said she had with him a decade earlier. He has denied any such relationship.

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, said a gag order in the case would infringe on Trump’s right to free speech, if implemented.

“This is election interference pure and simple,” Cheung said in a statement.

Judges may impose gag orders – which restrict defendants or others involved in court cases from speaking publicly about certain aspects of legal proceedings – to try to prevent intimidation of witnesses or jurors, or to protect court staff from threats.

If approved in this case by Justice Juan Merchan, the gag order would bar Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case.

The district attorney’s office also asked that Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case – other than Bragg himself – as well as court staff members. Trump previously has called Bragg, who is a Democrat, an “animal” and a “degenerate psychopath.”

Trump has argued that the case should be dismissed because it was brought for partisan purposes and because state laws do not apply to federal elections. Merchan on Feb. 15 denied Trump’s request to dismiss the charges on those grounds.

Trump has won the first five nominating contests for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the general election.

The measures Bragg requested are similar to restrictions a federal judge in Washington imposed last year in Trump’s criminal case on charges involving his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden.

In a civil fraud case, a New York state judge fined Trump a total of $15,000 for twice violating a gag order barring him from publicly talking about court staff. Trump is appealing a $454 million judgment against him in that case.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham and Caitlin Webber)