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Trump Faces April 23 Hearing on Gag Order Charges in N.Y. Criminal Trial

Monday, 15 April 2024 05:32 PM EDT

New York prosecutors asked a judge at the start of Donald Trump's New York criminal trial Monday to fine him and remind him he could go to jail for violating a gag order that bars him from interfering with potential witnesses.

Justice Juan Merchan set April 23 for a hearing on the request for fines and gave Trump's lawyers until this Friday to submit a written response.

The trial, the first of a former U.S. president, stems from a 2016 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. With Trump seated at the defense table, prosecutors cited his years of criticism of witnesses, court officials and others.

Prosecutors asked the judge to fine Trump $1,000 each for each of three social-media posts this month about Daniels and Trump's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen.

“The defendant has demonstrated his willingness to flout the order. He has attacked witnesses in the case, in the past he has attacked grand jurors in the case,” prosecutor Christopher Conroy said.

Under Merchan's gag order, Trump is barred from making public statements about witnesses concerning their potential testimony and about prosecutors, court staff and their family members if the statements are meant to interfere with the case.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche said Trump did not violate the gag order because he was responding to witnesses' public statements. “The two witnesses themselves have been talking about their testimony in this case, President Trump’s ongoing reelection, and just generally disparaging President Trump constantly,” Blanche said.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, charged Trump with falsifying records to cover up a $130,000 payment in the waning days of the 2016 presidential campaign to buy the silence of Daniels about a 2006 sexual encounter she has said they had.

Trump has denied any such relationship and has pleaded not guilty.

Falsifying business records in New York is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, though many of those found guilty have been sentenced to fines or probation.

If convicted, Trump could still hold office if he defeats Democrat President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election. But according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, half of independent voters and one in four Republicans say they would not vote for him if he were convicted of a felony.

Cohen has testified that he made the payments to buy Daniels' silence ahead of the 2016 election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating campaign finance law, though the federal prosecutors who brought that case did not charge Trump.

Trump has called Cohen a "serial liar" and his lawyers are expected to attack his credibility at trial.

Trump, 77, is required to attend the trial, which is expected to last through May. Merchan warned him that he could be sent to jail if he disrupted the proceedings, adding that he gives that warning to all defendants at the outset of a trial.

The selection of 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of Manhattan residents is expected to take about a week, followed by witness testimony.

Wearing his signature blue suit and red tie, Trump watched while Merchan set limits on witnesses and evidence to be presented at trial and denied a motion by Trump's lawyers to have the judge recuse himself.

The judge said some 500 potential jurors were waiting while legal arguments took place.

Police stood guard in front of the courthouse amid a maze of barricades. A handful of protesters carried hand-painted signs reading “LOSER” and “convict Trump already.”

Though the case is regarded by some legal experts as the least consequential of the four criminal prosecutions he faces, it is the only one guaranteed to go to trial before the Nov. 5 election.

The businessman-turned-politician, who served as president from 2017 to 2021, says he is being targeted by his political enemies.

"This is political persecution," Trump said before entering the courtroom.

In his three other criminal cases, Trump stands accused of mishandling classified information and trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.

Bragg has argued that the case concerns an unlawful scheme to corrupt the 2016 election by burying a scandalous story that would have harmed Trump's campaign. Trump's lawyers have said the payment did not amount to an illegal campaign contribution.

Choosing a jury from a pool of people from heavily Democrat Manhattan could take several days, to be followed by opening statements and testimony from a parade of potentially riveting witnesses, including Cohen and Daniels.

David Pecker, the former head of the National Enquirer tabloid, will also testify that he ran stories in the tabloid to boost Trump's 2016 campaign, prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said.

Also due on the witness stand is Karen McDougal, a former nude model for Playboy magazine who prosecutors say was paid by the National Enquirer to keep quiet about an affair she says she had with Trump.

Merchan said he would not permit witnesses or prosecutors to tell the jury that the affair took place while Trump's wife Melania was pregnant with their child.

Trump has said he plans to testify in his own defense, a move that could open him to cross-examination.

© 2024 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

New York prosecutors asked a judge at the start of Donald Trump's New York criminal trial Monday to fine him and remind him he could go to jail for violating a gag order that bars him from interfering with potential witnesses.
trump, trial, stormy daniels, jury, election
Monday, 15 April 2024 05:32 PM
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