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Trump fined $1,000 for violating gag order again and threatened with jail time

Former President Donald Trump attends his trial in Manhattan criminal court on May 2. The judge in the case heard arguments related to the prosecution's request to fine Trump for violating a gag order in the case.
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Former President Donald Trump attends his trial in Manhattan criminal court on May 2. The judge in the case heard arguments related to the prosecution's request to fine Trump for violating a gag order in the case.

Former President Donald Trump has been held in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for violating a gag orderaimed at protecting witnesses and jurors in his Manhattan criminal trial.

While handing his order down from the bench, New York Judge Juan Merchan issued a blistering warning to Trump that should the violations continue, he will put him in jail — an unprecedented consequence for a former president and presumptive GOP nominee.

Merchan said that the maximum $1,000 per violation penalty is "not serving as a deterrent," leaving him to consider jail time as a sanction. He noted that "to take that step would be disruptive to these proceedings."

Merchan said he worries about the court officers, Secret Service and various other personnel that would be needed for such a measure, "but at the end of the day, I have a job to do."

Trump sat at the bench with arms crossed, with his son Eric Trump in the room, as the judge handed down his order.

"Because this is now the 10th time that this Court has found Defendant
in criminal contempt, spanning three separate motions, it is apparent that monetary fines have not and will not, suffice to deter Defendant from violating this Court's lawful orders," Merchan said in his written order.

Merchan only fined Trump for one of four alleged violations brought by the prosecution — for a statement claiming the jury is "95% democrats."

What did prosecutors argue Trump did?

Prosecutors in Trump's criminal trial last week asked Merchan to fine him $4,000 — $1,000 for each of 4 statements — for violating the order and to find Trump in contempt of court for a second time. Merchan heard arguments over the violation in a hearing on May 2.

Prosecutors brought up comments made by Trump in various media outlets including a podcast, local interviews and at media appearances. In one instance, the prosecution pointed to Trump calling National Enquirer David Pecker's testimony "nice," arguing it could serve as a reminder to future witnesses that the former president is watching and willing to comment.

As for Trump's comment that "95% of the jurors are all democrats," prosecutors argued that it "amplifies and creates an air of menace." The two other allegations included comments about former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is assumed to be a future witness.

Last week, Trump was ordered to pay $9,000and remove seven offending posts from his Truth Social account, and two posts from his campaign website that Merchan ruled violated the gag order. Merchan warned in that ruling that the court "will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment." In other words, he reminded Trump that jail is a punishment option.

Weeks before the trial began, Merchan issued a gag order on Trump that specifically bars him from making or directing others to make public statements about potential jurors, court staff or family members of staff.

Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee, is accused of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records with the intent to further other crimes ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The jury has already heard from several witnesses including former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, First Republic Bank banker Gary Farro, longtime Trump executive assistant Rhona Graff and lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented two women at the center of the trial.

On May 2, Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche argued that Trump is still speaking out in self-defense and also in defense of his run for president.

"He can't just say no comment repeatedly when he's running for president," Blanche said.

Trump has challenged the gag order, including a failed attempt to delay the trial while he fought it. An appeals court judge's decision to keep the gag order in place came less than a week before jury selection began.

Trump has argued that this order is unconstitutionally limiting his political speech as he campaigns to be the next president. In the ruling that put the gag order in place, Merchan rejected Trump's assertion that his statements "constitute core political speech."

The current gag order does not cover Merchan or District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Both have also been recipients of the former president's ire.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.