Donald Trump facing jail if he breaks gag order again, says judge

Donald Trump has been warned he could be jailed if he continues to violate a gag order banning him from attacking jurors, court staff and witnesses in his hush money trial.

The former president was held in criminal contempt on Tuesday and fined $9,000 for breaching the order nine times in a string of posts on Truth Social – his own social media platform – and his campaign website.

Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the criminal trial, said he would “not tolerate” further violations and “if necessary and appropriate” he would impose “an incarceratory punishment”.

In a campaign email to supporters sent shortly after the ruling, Mr Trump hit out at Judge Merchan – who is not protected by the gag order – and labelled him a “Democrat judge”.

“I was fined $9,000 for 9 gag order violations,” he said. “They want to silence me.”

Prosecutors claimed last week that the Republican presidential nominee had violated the court order on 10 occasions.

The offending posts included attacks on key witnesses Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former “fixer”, and Stormy Daniels, the porn star whose alleged tryst with Mr Trump and subsequent $130,000 payoff is at the centre of the case.

Writing on Truth Social, Mr Trump accused Mr Merchan of being a “highly conflicted judge” who is “rigging” the election.
“I am the only presidential candidate in history to be gagged”, he wrote.

Mr Trump on Tuesday removed the nine posts which were found to have violated the gag order.

Judge labels defence argument ‘absurd’

Judge Merchan rejected the defence’s argument that reposting articles and comments on social media did not count, saying it was “counterintuitive and indeed absurd”. He also poured scorn on Mr Trump’s claims he was responding to attacks from his rivals.

“Merely characterising every one of [the] defendant’s postings as a response to a ‘political attack’ does not make them so,” the judge wrote.

Judge Merchan also suggested he would like the option to punish Mr Trump with a fine of up to $150,000 per violation as opposed to a prison sentence, but this is not an option under judicial law. Criminal contempt is only punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or by 30 days in prison for each violation.

He said in such cases it would be “preferable” to impose a fine “more commensurate with the wealth of the contemnor”, such as a fine of up to $150,000 per violation.

Mr Trump was ordered to remove the seven offending posts from his Truth Social account and two posts from his campaign website by the afternoon. Another hearing on further alleged violations will be held on Wednesday.

Yesterday, the jury heard from Keith Davidson, the lawyer who negotiated hush money deals with Ms Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model.

He said Ms McDougal’s alleged sexual affair with Mr Trump had lasted “months if not more”.

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