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DA Suggests Donald Trump Violated Gag Order With Post About Daughter of Hush-Money Trial Judge

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors suggested Friday that Donald Trump violated a gag order in his hush-money criminal case this week by assailing the judge’s daughter and making a false claim about her on social media.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to “clarify or confirm” the scope of the gag order, which he issued on Tuesday, and to direct the former president and presumptive Republican nominee to “immediately desist from attacks on family members.”

In a letter to Merchan, Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass argued that the gag order’s ban on statements meant to interfere with or harass the court’s staff or their families makes the judge’s daughter off-limits from Trump’s rhetoric. He said Trump should be punished for further violations.

Trump’s lawyers contend the DA’s office is misinterpreting the order and that it doesn’t prohibit him from commenting about Loren Merchan, a political consultant whose firm has worked on campaigns for Trump’s rival Joe Biden and other Democrats.

“The Court cannot ‘direct’ President Trump to do something that the gag order does not require,” Trump’s lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles wrote. “To ‘clarify or confirm’ the meaning of the gag order in the way the People suggest would be to expand it.”

The trial, which involves allegations Trump falsified payment records in a scheme to cover up negative stories during his 2016 presidential campaign, is scheduled to begin April 15. Trump denies wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

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In his posts Wednesday on his Truth Social platform, Trump wrote that Loren Merchan “makes money by working to ‘Get Trump,’” and he wrongly accused her of posting a social media photo showing him behind bars.

A spokesperson for New York’s state court system said Trump’s claim was false and that the social media account Trump was referencing no longer belonged to Loren Merchan.

The account on X, formerly known as Twitter, “is not linked to her email address, nor has she posted under that screenname since she deleted the account. Rather, it represents the reconstitution, last April, and manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned,” court spokesperson Al Baker said.

In the same Truth Social posts, Trump complained that his gag order was “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional.” He said that Judge Merchan was “wrongfully attempting to deprive me of my First Amendment Right to speak out against the Weaponization of Law Enforcement” by Democratic rivals.

The order, echoing one in Trump’s Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case, also prohibits any statements meant to interfere with or harass the court’s staff, prosecution team or their families. Trump, however, is free to criticize Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the elected Democrat whose office is prosecuting Trump — but Steinglass wants his family off limits, too.

In his letter, Steinglass implored the judge to “make abundantly clear” to Trump that the gag order protects his family, Bragg’s family and family members of all other individuals covered by the gag order. He urged Merchan to warn Trump “that his recent conduct is contumacious and direct him to immediately desist.”

A gag order violation could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Trump’s lawyers argued against any such warnings, citing constitutional concerns about restricting Trump’s speech further while he’s campaigning for president and fighting criminal charges.

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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