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Trump asks to have gag order lifted in New York criminal trial

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Former President Donald Trump has requested that the judge in his New York criminal trial terminate the limited gag order that restricts him from commenting on witnesses, prosecutors, jurors, court staff and their relatives. His attorney, Todd Blanche, filed a letter on Tuesday arguing that the gag order is no longer justified.

Last Thursday, Trump was convicted on all 34 felony counts of falsification of business records by a unanimous jury, making him the first former president ever convicted of a crime. 

"Now that the trial is concluded, the concerns articulated by the government and the Court do not justify restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump — who remains the leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election — and the American people," wrote Blanche.

Trump's attorney argued that the need for "unrestrained campaign advocacy is even stronger in light of" recent comments by President Biden about the verdict, "continued attacks" against Trump by government witnesses Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen, and the upcoming first presidential debate on June 27.

In the letter, Blanche also noted that "the defense does not concede that there was ever a valid basis for the gag order and reserves the right to challenge the irreparable First Amendment harms caused by the order."

On Wednesday, attorneys from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office wrote to the court to oppose the lifting of the gag order "at least through the sentencing hearing and the resolution of any post-trial motions," saying the court "has an obligation to protect the integrity of these proceedings and the fair administration of justice."

Justice Juan Merchan placed the gag order on Trump before the trial over concerns about threats to the potential witnesses, jurors, court staff and prosecutors on the case. When Trump then persistently attacked the judge's daughter, Merchan expanded the gag order to bar Trump from attacking his and Bragg's family members. Trump was still allowed to criticize Bragg and the judge.

Merchan found at the time that Trump's rhetoric posed a "threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings" and "injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are 'fair game' for Defendant's vitriol." 

Yet Trump continued to make comments about people affiliated with the trial, including Daniels, Cohen and the jury. During jury selection, multiple prospective jurors asked to be excused, citing fears for their safety. 

During the trial, Merchan found that Trump violated the gag order 10 times. Trump was fined $1,000 per violation and threatened with incarceration if the violations continued. 

With his sentencing looming on July 11th, only four days before the Republican National Convention, Trump could be risking a harsher sentence if he decides to comment on those protected under the gag order. In determining his sentence, the judge has discretion and may take into account factors such as Trump's conduct, prior gag order violations and lack of remorse.

Trump faces up to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine per felony conviction. 

Graham Kates contributed reporting.

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