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Prosecutors urge judge to hold Trump in contempt again for more gag order violations

New hearing over Trump gag order
Prosecutors urge judge to penalize Trump for more gag order violations 04:37

Prosecutors in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York urged the judge on Thursday to penalize the defendant for more alleged violations of a gag order limiting what he can say about those involved in the case.

At a contentious hearing with Trump looking on, lawyers from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office told Judge Juan Merchan that Trump had violated Merchan's order four more times in recent weeks. 

On Tuesday, Merchan held Trump in contempt of court for nine posts on social media and his campaign website referencing likely witnesses. The judge fined him $1,000 per post, the maximum allowed under state law, and warned that Trump could be jailed if he violates the order again.

Bragg's office on Thursday again asked the judge to fine Trump $1,000 for each violation but said they weren't seeking jail time.

Prosecutors brought the additional alleged violations to the judge's attention last week, before he held Trump in contempt. Two involved comments about Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer who is expected to be a key witness at trial. Another cited comments he made about David Pecker, who testified on the stand last week. The fourth referenced remarks Trump made about the jury.

The contempt hearing

Former President Donald Trump attends his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 2, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump attends his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 2, 2024. MARK PETERSON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Christopher Conroy presented the prosecution's argument for holding Trump in contempt for the additional alleged violations.

"The order was issued because of the defendant's persistent and escalating rhetoric aimed at participants in this proceeding," Conroy said. "He's already been found to have violated the order nine times, and he's done it again here."

He referenced Trump's comments about Pecker, the former media executive who testified about his involvement in the "catch and kill" scheme to suppress negative stories about Trump in 2015 and 2016. At a campaign stop last week, Trump told reporters he thought Pecker had been "very nice."

"The defendant knows what he's doing. He talks about the witness, says nice things, does it in front of cameras," Conroy said. "The [question] he answered was about the witness who was testifying. It was deliberate and it was calculated."

Conroy said prosecutors weren't seeking jail time for the additional violations, since they "prefer to minimize disruptions to this proceeding" and because the comments at issue came before Merchan held Trump in contempt for his earlier posts. Conroy asked Merchan to again fine Trump $1,000 per violation.

Todd Blanche, an attorney for Trump, argued that the gag order unfairly limits what his client's ability to respond to political attacks. He cited a joke President Biden made at the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend that referenced Stormy Daniels, and said Trump would not be allowed to do the same under the gag order. He also pointed to media coverage of the trial: "Everyone can say whatever they want, except President Trump."

Merchan seemed unconvinced. He said that nothing in the gag order prevents Trump from responding to Mr. Biden, his rival for the presidency, if Trump doesn't mention witnesses. He also said he has no authority over what the media reports about the trial.

Blanche argued that Trump's comment about Pecker being "very nice" on the stand was a "very fair and neutral answer" to a question from a reporter. "When you have President Trump saying something completely neutral about the witness, that's not a violation," Blanche said. Merchan said he was not "not terribly concerned" about that comment.

Turning to Cohen, Blanche said he has been "inviting and almost daring President Trump to respond to everything he has been saying" through "personal attacks, mocking him for being on trial and comments about his candidacy." Blanche cited several posts on X and podcast appearances by Cohen, who recently said he would refrain from commenting during the trial moving forward. 

"This is not a man that needs protection from the gag order," Blanche argued.

Merchan raised another comment that prosecutors said violated his order. In a TV interview on April 22, Trump said the jury "was picked so fast" and made up of "95% Democrats." He called the trial "a very unfair situation."

Blanche said that remark "absolutely, positively" did not violate the gag order since Trump wasn't referring to a particular juror.

Merchan, seemingly frustrated, asked Blanche: "Is there anything else you'd like to say? Just wrap it up." Trump's attorney concluded by arguing that Cohen and Daniels should not be shielded by the gag order.

Merchan did not issue an order on the matter immediately, and the trial proceeded with testimony from Keith Davidson, an attorney who represented Daniels in her negotiations over selling the rights to her story in 2016.

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