PoliticsTrump on Trial


Judge, Trump lawyer combative as sides debate gag order

The court will decide whether the former president violated a gag order that limits what he can say publicly about the case.
Former president Donald Trump, center, awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court.
Posted at 7:43 AM, Apr 23, 2024

Former President Donald Trump's New York hush money trial continued on Tuesday as former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker again took the witness stand.

But Pecker's testimony could easily be overshadowed by what took place in the courtroom before Pecker and the jury were called into the room.

Judge Juan Merchan heard arguments on whether Trump violated a gag order. Prosecutors claim Trump violated an order by Merchan that limits what Trump can say about the case, including regarding potential witnesses, jurors, and the family of the judge.

On Tuesday, prosecutors said Trump violated the gag order 10 times by posting disparaging comments involving potential witnesses Michael Cohen, who served as a former attorney for Trump, and Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors also said Trump tried to influence the jury after reposting remarks on April 17 from Fox News' Jesse Waters that said, "They're catching undercover liberal activists lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury.” Merchan noted that the following day, a juror asked to be dismissed.

"Defendant violated those restrictions by making or directing to be made the social media posts and posts on the campaign website," the prosecutor's filings said. "The posts unquestionably relate to known witnesses and prospective jurors in this criminal trial."

In defense of Trump's comments, attorney Todd Blanche said, “Trump 'truths' repeatedly, all day, virtually seven days a week.”
In response to Blanche, Merchan asked, "When he was reposting these things, he was not violating the gag order? How do I know that’s his position? 'Cause you’re telling me? Are you testifying under oath?"

“This gag order, we are trying to comply with it," Blanche said.

"You are losing all credibility. You are losing all credibility with the court," Merchan responded. Trump has claimed that the gag order violates his free speech rights.

“The gag order has to come off. People are allowed to speak about me, and I have a gag order, just to show you how much more unfair it is," Trump said.

If Merchan finds that Trump has violated the gag order, he can issue a $1,000 fine per violation. If Merchan says that Trump willfully violated the order, he can put Trump in jail for up to 30 days.

Merchan did not indicate when he would issue a ruling on the gag order.

The gag order hearing was held before Pecker testified. His testimony on Monday was cut short after 20 minutes as court adjourned by 12:30 p.m. ET. On Tuesday, Pecker spent nearly three hours on the witness stand.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges Trump tried to conceal an "illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election" by trying to cover up extramarital affairs. Bragg claims Trump falsified records to hide payments to Cohen that were meant for porn actress Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, as well as a former doorman at Trump Tower.

Prosecutors have alleged that Pecker was involved in the alleged scheme by performing "catch and kill" on stories that could have damaged Trump's reputation.

Prosecutors said Trump used Cohen to buy the McDougal story from National Enquirer's publisher AMI. Prosecutors say the Trump Organization then paid Cohen in monthly installments and a year-end bonus check.

On Tuesday, Pecker said that in addition to buying stories that could potentially be damaging to Trump, AMI also would purchase and publish stories damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign.

“It was a mutual benefit. It would help his campaign and it would also help me," Pecker said. "In writing positive stories about Mr. Trump and covering the election and writing negative stories about his opponents, it was only going to increase newsstand sales. And that publishing these stories was going to benefit his campaign."

Pecker said that prior to 2015, he had never paid to kill a story.

Pecker revealed that AMI paid the doorman $30,000, which is far more than it usually paid for a source. He said a source payment generally runs between $250 and $5,000. A source involving a bigger celebrity would cost up to $10,000.

Trump faces 34 felony counts for falsifying business records.

The court will be adjourned on Wednesday and the trial will resume on Thursday, Merchan said.