Trump held in contempt for violating gag order in “hush money” trial. Here’s how much he owes.

Trump held in contempt for violating gag order in “hush money” trial. Here’s how much he owes.
Trump held in contempt for violating gag order in “hush money” trial. Here’s how much he owes.

The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York held him in contempt of court on Tuesday for violating a gag order that limits what he can say about those involved in the case, and warned him that he could be jailed if he violates the order again.

Judge Juan Merchan said Trump violated the order nine times in recent weeks in posts on Trump’s Truth Social platform and campaign website, many of which targeted Cohen and Stormy Daniels, key witnesses in the case. Merchan fined Trump $9,000, or $1,000 for each violation, and ordered him to delete the posts. All nine posts were taken down by Tuesday afternoon.

The judge announced the ruling from the bench and issued an accompanying written order. He wrote that Trump “violated the Order by making social media posts about known witnesses pertaining to their participation in this criminal proceeding and by making public statements about jurors in this criminal proceeding.”

Merchan wrote that New York law doesn’t allow him to impose a fine higher than $1,000 per violation, which “unfortunately will not achieve the desired result in those instances where the [defendant] can easily afford such a fine.” He said a higher fine might be appropriate in those cases, but since he does not have that discretion, the court “must therefore consider whether in some instances, jail may be a necessary punishment.”

He concluded with a warning to Trump: “Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its legal orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

The Trump gag order

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives to court during his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 30, 2024 in New York City.

Seth Wenig-Pool/Getty Images

Merchan issued the original gag order in March, before the trial got underway. It swept Trump from commenting on likely witnesses, potential jurors, court staff, lawyers for the prosecution and others connected to the case. The judge later expanded that order to cover his own family members after Trump attacked his daughter over her consulting work with Democratic candidates and progressive causes.

The gag order does not prevent Trump from criticizing Merchan or Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney.

Prosecutors from Bragg’s office filed a motion urging the judge to find Trump in contempt over 10 posts targeting Cohen, Daniels and others. Merchan found that Trump violated the order in all but one of the posts.

Prosecutors laid out four other instances in which they said Trump violated the order when court agreed last Thursday. Those four alleged violations are the subject of a hearing set to be held this week.

At a hearing over the posts earlier last week, Chris Conroy, an attorney on Bragg’s team, said they “willfully and flagrantly” violated the order.

“No one is off limits to the defendant. He can attack and seek to intimidate anyone he wants to in service to himself,” prosecutor Chris Conroy said. He asked that the judge impose a $1,000 fine for each post and order Trump to take them down.

Todd Blanche, an attorney for Trump, argued that his client was responding to political attacks in his posts, and did not believe he was violating the order when reposting or quoting others. Merchan repeatedly asked him to name the precise attacks Trump was responding to, which Blanche could not do.

“Mr. Blanche, you’re losing all credibility. I have to tell you that right now. You’re losing all credibility with the court,” Merchan said at one point.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to reimbursements for a $130,000 “hush money” payment to Daniels, an adult film star who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump, which Trump denies. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges in the case, and repeatedly protested the gag order as “unconstitutional.”

Graham Kates

Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBS News Digital. Contact Graham at [email protected] or [email protected]

 
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