NY judge issues harsh order in Trump money probe



CNN

There is a New York judge issued a stern order Donald Trump has barred the former president from providing statements about potential witnesses in a criminal investigation into the money laundering scandal that is scheduled to begin next month.

Judge Juan Merchan said Prosecutors, court employees or family members of prosecutors or attorneys cannot release Trump statements intended to interfere with the case. Trump is barred from making statements about any potential or actual jurors.

The former president, Merchan wrote, has a history of making “threatening, inflammatory and disparaging” statements against people at all levels of the justice system, including judges.

The ruling would prevent Trump from criticizing his former lawyer Michael Cohen or adult film star Stormy Daniels, both of whom are expected to testify at trial.

The order did not prevent Trump from speaking about New York District Attorney Alvin Brock or Merchan.

The gag order comes as Trump has repeatedly attacked the district attorney's case and those associated with it ahead of what would be the former president's first criminal trial. Trump criticized Mercen, his daughter and one of Bragg's lawyers in the hours before Mercen issued his order.

“An unrestricted record reflecting a defendant's pretrial extrajudicial statements poses a sufficient risk to the administration of justice … and there are no fewer restrictions to prevent such a risk,” Merchan wrote Tuesday.

Trump's historic criminal trial is set to begin April 15 with jury selection, a dispute over the late production of documents that initially dogged Merson. Push back the start date. Trump was charged with falsifying 34 business records in return for payments he made to Daniels to prevent Cohen from going public about an alleged affair with Trump before the 2016 election. The former president has pleaded not guilty and has denied the affair.

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The District Collector's Office had last month requested that the case be kept for trial.

Trump and his lawyers have argued that as the leading Republican candidate for president, Trump's speech should not be banned in order to appeal to voters in the 2024 election.

“Judge Merson's unconstitutional gag order prevents President Trump, the front-runner for President of the United States, from engaging in substantive political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment,” said Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung. Report. “American voters have a fundamental right to hear the uncensored voice of the leading candidate for the nation's highest office.”

Trump attorney Todd Blanch declined to comment.

Judges have issued similar gag orders in Trump's other criminal and civil cases, including a New York civil fraud trial and a federal election tampering case in Washington, D.C. In a civil fraud case last fall, Trump was fined twice for defying Judge Arthur Engron's scathing order and for making comments about the judge's staff.

Merson said he reviewed Trump's public statements in other cases when deciding whether to impose restrictions.

“These unlawful statements go beyond self-defense against 'attacks' by 'public figures,'” Merchan wrote.

“In fact, his statements were threatening, inflammatory, defamatory and the targets of his statements ranged from private individuals including local and federal officials, court and court employees, prosecutors and staff assigned to cases, and grand jurors performing their civic duties.” The judge wrote.

Merson said he felt he had to go further than the previous order that jurors' names and identifying information could not be made public.

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“Although the protective order regarding jurors' anonymity prevents the dissemination of certain personal information, it is insufficient to prevent unlawful speech that targets jurors and exposes them to an intimidating environment,” the judge wrote.

Trump attended a pretrial hearing Monday, where Merson quickly rejected a motion seeking sanctions against the district attorney's office, setting a trial date for April 15.

Afterward, Trump went to his nearby 40 Wall Street building to speak to reporters to attack the case against him, one of Mercen and Bragg's staffers, Matthew Colangelo, who previously worked at the Justice Department.

On Truth Social Tuesday, Trump continued to hit out at Colangelo, claiming that Attorney General Merrick Garland's “right-hand man” was sent to the district attorney's office to go after Trump.

Trump's comments may now violate the gag order, which says Trump cannot comment on any district attorney staff other than Bragg.

Merson made it clear in his order that he was paying attention, citing Trump's comments.

“Notably, within hours of his March 25, 2024 court appearance, which set a trial date of April 15, 2024, the defendant targeted a private attorney assigned to the case, referring to him as a 'far-left wing of the DOJ.' [ … ] District Attorney's Office to prosecute Trump and it was done by Biden and his thugs at a press conference,” Merson wrote.

Merson also addressed Trump's criticism of his daughter, who has worked for Democratic political campaigns, noting “the nature and impact of the statements made against this court and its family member.”

Trump on Tuesday referenced Merson's daughter's political work in a lengthy attack on Truth Social. Last year, Trump asked Merson to renounce oneself Partly because of his daughter's political work. Judge refused to do so.

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The judge said he was “not convinced” by arguments from Trump's lawyers that the former president has largely avoided commenting on the parties in this case compared to his other cases.

“Although this court did not issue a gag order against the defendant at the outset of this case, this court, given the nature and impact of the statements made against the defendant and his family member, the District Collector and Asst., chose instead to issue an admonition. “The district attorney, the witnesses in this case, as well as the nature and impact of the defendant's extrajudicial statements in the DC Circuit case (resulting in the DC Circuit's issuance of an order restricting his speech) and on us the day before trial, undoubtedly, the immediacy of the risk of harm is paramount now,” Merchan said. wrote

The judge noted that Trump's statements in his cases led to “not only fear on the part of the targeted individual, but increased security resources to investigate threats and protect individuals and family members.”

“Such vexatious extrajudicial statements will undoubtedly disrupt the orderly administration of this court,” Merchan wrote.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN's Alayna Treene contributed to this report.

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