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    Judge warns Trump of jail time after finding him in contempt for gag order violation

    By Zach SchonfeldElla LeeLauren Sforza,


    NEW YORK — Former President Trump’s hush money judge found he violated a gag order a 10th time, giving Trump his sternest warning yet that future violations could carry jail time.

    Judge Juan Merchan on Monday ordered Trump to pay $1,000 for attacking jurors in his historic criminal trial, just days after the judge ruled on an earlier set of gag order violations .

    “Defendant is hereby put on notice that if appropriate and warranted, future violations of its lawful orders will be punishable by incarceration,” Merchan wrote .

    But the judge handed Trump a partial win, ruling that prosecutors had not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump violated his gag order in three other statements.

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    The gag order bars Trump from hurling insults at witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff or the judge’s family. It doesn’t bar him from attacking the judge himself or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

    Trump has lambasted the restrictions, asserting they violate his First Amendment rights to respond to political attacks, as the presumptive Republican nominee becomes the first former U.S. president to face criminal trial.

    The judge has now found Trump breached his gag order a total of 10 times and must pay $1,000 for each violation. Prosecutors had indicated they weren’t yet seeking jail time to “minimize disruptions” to the trial, but as he handed down his ruling, the judge made clear that fines aren’t working.

    The judge told Trump the “last thing I want to do is put you in jail” but “at the end of the day I have a job to do.”

    “Your continued violations constitute a direct attack on the rule of law,” Merchan said.

    Unlike the earlier set of violations, which comprised nine posts on Truth Social and Trump’s campaign website published through jury selection, the newest round implicated the former president’s spoken comments after testimony got underway.

    Prosecutors targeted Trump’s statements in the courthouse hallway, at a campaign stop and during two media interviews.

    The judge found Trump violated his gag order on one of those four occasions: during an April 22 interview with conservative channel Real America’s Voice, when Trump suggested he can’t get a fair trial in deep-blue Manhattan.

    “That jury was picked so fast — 95 percent Democrats,” Trump said. “The area’s mostly all Democrat. You think of it as a — just a purely Democrat area. It’s a very unfair situation, that I can tell you.”

    Multiple judges have rejected those arguments, declining to grant the former president a venue change or a trial delay, and Merchan has most forcefully warned against intimidating jurors in his efforts to quell the former president’s incendiary remarks.

    “The implication is this is not a fair jury,” Merchan said at last week’s hearing, seeming aggravated. “That’s the implication that was given to anyone who heard that comment.”

    Prosecutor Chris Conroy contended during the hearing that any remarks Trump makes about the jury puts the trial at risk.

    “He was on the media, and he used his platform there to criticize the seated jury in this case,” Conroy said. “There’s no inference needed. … By talking about the jury at all, he places … the process in jeopardy.”

    But the judge did not hold Trump in contempt Monday for three other alleged violations that took aim at two of the state’s key witnesses: ex-National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

    The former president told reporters in the courthouse on April 22 that Cohen “wasn’t very good in a lot of ways in terms of his representation,” and a day later, derided his onetime personal attorney as “a convicted liar” with “no credibility whatsoever” in an interview with 6ABC Philadelphia .

    Trump’s lawyers have complained that Cohen has repeatedly attacked Trump on social media, arguing the former president is merely responding to political attacks. Merchan agreed with Trump, ruling that he couldn’t find beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump’s statements “were not protected political speech made in response to political attacks by Michael Cohen.”

    As for Pecker, Trump on April 25 remarked that the witness — who was expected to take the stand hours later — is a “nice guy.” Prosecutors claimed the comment came with an unspoken warning.

    “This is a message to Pecker: Be nice,” prosecutor Chris Conroy said when first raising the issue.

    But the judge was less convinced, writing Monday he couldn’t find beyond a reasonable doubt that the statement “constituted a veiled threat.”

    “To be sure, this Court understands the People’s argument as it pertains to this Exhibit and agrees that often seemingly innocuous or even complimentary words and phrases can in truth conceal a more nefarious purpose, such as to threaten, harass or intimidate,” Merchan wrote in his ruling.

    “However, context, facial expressions, emphasis and even cadence are critical in reaching such a determination.”

    Trump has appealed the gag order, arguing it violates his First Amendment rights, but it remains in effect as of now. His attorneys claim he is not “willfully” violating the order.

    In arguing against the order Thursday, Trump’s attorneys raised remarks made by President Biden at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, in which the president jokingly lamented that Trump had recently faced “stormy weather” — a reference to Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress paid hush money at the center of the case.

    “Judge, last weekend, President Trump’s rival, President Biden, said in a public forum — he talked about this trial, and he talked about a witness that’s going to be in this trial,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche said. “He mocked President Trump.”

    The Trump attorney argued that the former president can’t respond to Biden’s attacks “in the way that he would want to” because of the gag imposed on his speech.

    “He’s running for president,” Blanche said. “He has to be able to speak.”

    But Merchan countered that the gag order doesn’t cover remarks made by Biden.

    “He’s certainly allowed to respond to something said by President Biden,” Merchan said.

    The former president faces 34 counts of falsifying business records in the New York criminal trial, which centers on a hush money deal made with an adult film actress ahead of the 2016 election to conceal an alleged affair. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair.

    Updated at 10:06 a.m. EDT

    For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.

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