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Donald Trump hush money judge extends gag order due to ‘vitriolic’ attacks on his family

Judge Juan Merchan agreed that former president’s social media posts posed a ‘very real’ threat to integrity of trial

Io Dodds
Tuesday 02 April 2024 12:53
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Judge Juan Merchan, shown in a courtroom sketch
Judge Juan Merchan, shown in a courtroom sketch (REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg)

The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial in New York City has agreed to tighten his gag order due to his “vitriolic” attacks on the judge’s family.

In an order on Monday evening, New York Supreme Court judge Juan Merchan said that Mr Trump’s statements represented a “very real” threat to the integrity of the trial.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg had earlier asked the judge to extend his gag order to cover court officers’ families due to Mr Trump’s “extreme and deliberate provocations”.

Several social media posts cited by Mr Bragg appeared to have been deleted on Monday evening.

“The average observer must now, after hearing defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves but for their loved ones as well,” Judge Merchan wrote.

“Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice, and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law itself.”

Mr Trump stands accused of falsifying business records in order to conceal his 2016 hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and other parties.

Last week, Judge Merchan barred the mercurial tycoon from making any public statements about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff, and jurors, saying that “the imminency of the risk of harm is now paramount”.

But the order did not include family members such as Judge Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan, who has worked for various Democratic political campaigns such as Kamala Harris’s 2020 presidential run.

Mr Trump’s lawyers have unsuccessfully sought Judge Merchan’s recusal, while Mr Trump and his own family have repeatedly accused him of bias and collusion with Democratic politicians in uncompromising terms.

On Sunday, in a now-deleted post on his social network Truth Social, Mr Trump allegedly posted photos of Ms Merchan, claiming that Judge Merchan was “highly conflicted” and “should be immediately sanctioned and recused”.

In response, lawyers for Mr Trump argued that the current gag order does not apply to Judge Merchan’s family members and that expanding the order would further violate his right to free speech.

“The court should reject [Mr Bragg’s] invitations to expand the gag order, which is already an unlawful prior restraint that improperly restricts campaign advocacy by the presumptive Republican nominee and leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election,” they wrote.

But Mr Merchan had little patience for their arguments, which he called “at best strained and at worst baseless misrepresentations” relying on “innuendo and exaggeration”.

“To argue that the most recent attacks... were ‘necessary and appropriate in the current environment’ is farcical,” Mr Merchan concluded.

The new gag order bars Mr Trump from making any public statements about the family members of any court staff if such statements could reasonably be expected to interfere with the case.

The case continues.

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