Trump faces gag order in New York hush money criminal case

By Thomson Reuters Mar 26, 2024 | 1:57 PM

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump on Tuesday was hit with a judge’s gag order sought by prosecutors in his upcoming criminal trial involving hush money paid to a porn star, restricting him from publicly commenting about witnesses and court staff.

Ahead of the former U.S. president’s trial scheduled to begin on April 15 in the New York state court, Justice Juan Merchan granted a request for the order made last month by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office.

The prosecution sought an order blocking Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case, and from commenting on court staff and prosecutors other than Bragg himself.

Silencing Trump was necessary because of his “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him,” prosecutors said.

Trump’s lawyers argued that a gag order would violate his right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, leaving him defenseless against attacks by political opponents over the case.

Merchan separately ruled on March 7 ruled that jurors were to remain anonymous except to Trump, his lawyers, prosecutors and a handful of others, after prosecutors highlighted Trump’s history of publicly deriding trial jurors and grand jurors.

Bragg’s case is one of four criminal indictments the Republican presidential candidate faces, with Trump pleading not guilty in all of the cases and portraying them as politically motivated.

It could be the only case to reach trial before his expected Nov. 5 rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements to his former lawyer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier.

Trump has denied having the encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The requested gag order was similar to restrictions a federal judge imposed last year in a criminal case over Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Trump also faces state criminal charges in Georgia over his push to reverse the 2020 results, and federal criminal charges in Florida over his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving the White House in 2021.

In a separate civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, another New York state judge fined Trump $15,000 last year for twice violating a gag order against publicly talking about court staff.

Trump is appealing a $454.2 million judgment in that case for misstating the values of his family real estate company’s properties to dupe lenders. On March 25, a mid-level state appeals court paused that judgment as long as Trump posts a smaller $175 million bond within 10 days.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Rami Ayyub)