Trump faces fines over gag order violations in NY case, could face jail for future violations

Judge Juan Merchan issued a stern warning to the former president after finding Trump guilty of nine violations.

Trump faces fines over gag order violations in NY case, could face jail for future violations
Jeenah Moon/Pool Photo via AP
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Former President Donald Trump was found guilty of violating a gag order nine times in the ongoing New York v. Trump case in Manhattan, presiding Judge Juan M. Merchan ruled on Tuesday. The judge fined Trump $9,000 for the violations, which ban him from speaking publicly about witnesses and family members of court officials.

Each violation resulted in a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors had alleged 10 violations, but Merchan found only nine to be valid. The lone post not deemed a violation referred to witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels as "sleaze bags" on April 10.

Merchan acknowledged that Trump's contention that he was responding to previous posts by Cohen "is sufficient to give" him pause on whether the post violated the gag order.

Among the posts found to be violations, Merchan ruled that a Trump post quoting Fox News host Jesse Watters' claim that liberal activists were lying to infiltrate the jury "constitutes a clear violation" of the gag order. The judge noted that the words within the quotation marks in Trump's April 17 post misstated Watters' actual statement, suggesting that the post contained Trump's own words, the Associated Press reported.

Merchan cautioned that the gag order should not be used as a "sword instead of a shield by potential witnesses" and that if protected individuals like Cohen continue to attack Trump, "it becomes apparent" they don't need the gag order's protection. Cohen has stated that he will refrain from commenting about Trump until after he testifies at the trial.

Merchan's subtle threat to jail a former president signaled that Trump's already precarious legal standing could further deteriorate depending on his behavior during the trial.

Trump's attorneys argue that the gag order violates the former president's First Amendment rights. District Attorney Alvin Bragg and his office alleged Trump violated the order at least 14 times, as of last week.

Merchan emphasized his awareness and protection of Trump's First Amendment rights, "particularly given his candidacy for the office of President of the United States." He stressed the importance of not curtailing Trump's legitimate free speech rights, allowing him to campaign for office and respond to political attacks fully.

However, the judge warned that the court would not tolerate "willful violations of its lawful orders" and that if necessary and appropriate, it would impose "incarceratory punishment."

The ruling came at the start of the second week of testimony in the historic case, in which Manhattan prosecutors argue Trump and his associates took part in an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential campaign by purchasing and then burying negative stories. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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