Manhattan DA Asks Judge to Hold Trump in Contempt of Court

Jack Phillips
By Jack Phillips
April 16, 2024Donald Trump
Manhattan DA Asks Judge to Hold Trump in Contempt of Court
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media with attorney Todd Blanche at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 16, 2024. (Curtis Means/Pool/Getty Images)

Prosecutors in the so-called “hush-money” case filed court papers Tuesday alleging former President Donald Trump violated a judge’s gag order by commenting on potential and likely witnesses involved in the case.

Several weeks ago, Judge Juan Merchan imposed the gag order on President Trump, writing that he cannot make public comments about witnesses such as former lawyer Michael Cohen or adult performer Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels.

“This Court should again admonish defendant to comply with his obligations under the order. And finally, this Court should warn defendant that future violations of this Court’s restrictions on his extrajudicial statements can be punished not only with additional fines but also with a term of incarceration of up to thirty days,” prosecutors under Democratic Manhattan Attorney General Alvin Bragg wrote Tuesday.

They argued that it is “absolutely critical that defendant immediately halt any conduct that would violate the April 1 order’s narrow restrictions to protect the integrity of the ongoing trial,” according to the court filing.

The 45th president should be fined $1,000 per violation, they wrote. Judge Merchan scheduled a hearing on the motion for April 23, which is a week from Tuesday.

The court motion came after Bragg prosecutor Joshua Steinglass made reference to a recent Trump post on Truth Social in which he called Mr. Cohen and Ms. Clifford “two sleazebags.” The former president has complained that Mr. Cohen and Ms. Clifford, both of whom are key prosecution witnesses, are allowed to criticize him in the media while he has to remain silent.

Earlier in April, Judge Merchan expanded a gag order on the former president after he made social media posts that criticized the judge’s daughter as a Democratic Party operative and suggested it’s evidence that the judge won’t give him a fair trial.

The former president’s lawyers have argued that the gag order is an unconstitutional curb on the presumptive Republican nominee’s free speech rights while he’s campaigning for president and fighting criminal charges.

“The First Amendment harms arising from this gag order right now are irreparable,” Trump lawyer Emil Bove said at an emergency hearing last week in an appeals court. Mr. Bove also argued that President Trump shouldn’t be muzzled while critics routinely assail him.

Mr. Bove last week argued that the order unconstitutionally restricts President Trump’s critiques of the case along with his ability to speak to the voting public and its right to hear from him.

In response, Steven Wu, the appellate chief for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, countered that there is a “public interest in protecting the integrity of the trial.”

“What we are talking about here is the defendant’s uncontested history of making inflammatory, denigrating” comments about people involved in the case, Mr. Wu said. “This is not political debate. These are insults.”

Mr. Wu claimed prosecutors already have had trouble getting some witnesses to testify “because they know what their names in the press may lead to.” Wu didn’t identify the witnesses but noted they included people who would testify about record-keeping practices.

Before Day two of his trial, the former president criticized Judge Merchan again, saying on Truth Social that the gag order should be lifted and that the case should have been tossed long ago. Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom, President Trump said that he should be instead campaigning in places like Pennsylvania and Florida rather than being forced to sit in a courtroom all day.

NTD Photo
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference following the arraignment of former President Donald Trump in New York City on April 4, 2023. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)

On Day 1, Judge Merchan directly warned President Trump that if he does not show up for court, he could face the possibility of an arrest and jail time. His lawyers had asked the judge for several days off, including allowing the former president to attend a Supreme Court hearing and his son Barron’s high school graduation.

The New York criminal case involves allegations that the former president falsified his company’s records to hide the nature of payments to Mr. Cohen, who said he helped him bury negative stories during his 2016 campaign. Mr. Cohen’s activities included paying $130,000 to suppress claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with President Trump years earlier, which the former president has denied.

Last year, the former president pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts and also denied Ms. Clifford’s claims. His lawyers have contended that the payments during the 2016 election to Mr. Cohen, who served time in a federal prison on a range of charges, were legitimate expenses.

As of Tuesday morning, several-dozen prospective jurors in the case have already been dismissed by the judge, with many saying that they would be unable to remain impartial in rendering a decision.

The trial is expected to last around eight weeks. Some analysts have said the jury-selection process could take as long as two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.