Trump threatens to imprison judge in contempt of court for defying gag order

A judge presided over Donald Trump's hush money trial on Tuesday Truth accused the former president of criminal contempt over a series of posts on Social, saying he violated a gag order barring any assault on jurors and witnesses and warned Trump that he could be jailed for further violations.

Judge Juan Mercant found Trump in contempt for nine violations of his gag order, and fined him $1,000 for each count. He concluded by warning that any violation of the order would not be tolerated and that “in necessary and appropriate circumstances,” the former president would be “punished.”

The judge explained that because the fines defined by state law are relatively small compared to Trump's assets, they are unlikely to deter the former president from obeying the court's order. While Merchan said he wanted to impose larger fines, he instead had to consider “whether in some cases prison is a necessary punishment.”

It prohibits the former president from “making public statements about or directing others to make public statements about witnesses who know or reasonably foresee their possible participation in the trial or this criminal proceeding” and “public statements about any prospective juror or any juror.”

He said on Tuesday that his order was “legitimate and vague” and that Trump violated it with social media posts about witnesses and public comments about jurors. He ordered Trump to remove seven offensive posts from his Truth social account and two more from his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The judge also said that in response to Trump's complaints about the out-of-court comments of expected witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, he may consider changing the gag order to remove them from his protection if necessary in the future.

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Cohen said in a statement in response to the judge's decision that the small fine was “inappropriate. Judge Merson's decision is that this behavior will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law.”

Mercen noted that on April 23, he told one of Trump's lawyers that he had “lost all credibility” when he suggested Trump was cautious about complying with the gag order.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney's office have alleged that Trump has violated Merson's April 1 order at least 10 times since it took effect, including a post calling expected witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels “sleazebags.” Another appeared to be a quote from Fox News personality Jesse Waters, who said, “They're catching undercover liberal activists who lied to a judge to get a place on a Trump jury.”

The DA sought a maximum fine of $1,000 for each post deemed in violation, along with an order to remove Trump posts. Prosecutors asked Merchan to warn Trump that any future violations could result in additional fines and up to 30 days in jail.

The prospect of Trump being jailed could be seized upon by the former president's campaign and supporters — particularly as a fundraising tool. Already, Trump has sent out several fundraising appeals regarding the investigation and possible consequences he may face. Last year, the mug shot he took after being indicted in Georgia in connection with his efforts to rig the 2020 presidential election prompted a fundraising bounty for Trump.

Prosecutor Chris Conroy said during a hearing on the morning of April 23 that Trump was “being cornered” into being locked up for political purposes.

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Trump's legal team responded that the former president did not intentionally violate the order and that he was simply responding to a “barrage of political attacks.”

Pressed by the judge, however, Trump attorney Todd Blanch had trouble figuring out what attacks Trump was responding to. “I have repeatedly asked you to give me an example and I have not received an answer,” the judge said.

Trump's lawyer Emil Bowe previously said some of the posts were responses to comments by Trump's former lawyer Cohen, while others were retweets from people and news organizations, which he said did not violate the gag order. The merchant asked for case law to support that position, and Blanche said she had none. “It's common sense, your honor,” said Blanche.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of false business records related to reimbursing Cohen for attorney fees to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 campaign. Daniels says she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006, an allegation she denies.

Trump faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

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