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Judge partially lifts Trump hush money gag order

Published 06/25/2024, 01:19 PM
Updated 06/25/2024, 08:40 PM
© Reuters. Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 22, 2024. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A New York judge partially lifted a gag order on Donald Trump on Tuesday following the Republican presidential candidate's conviction on criminal charges stemming from an effort to influence the 2016 election by buying a porn star's silence. 

The revised order now allows Trump to speak publicly about witnesses in the case and eases a prohibition on his commenting about the jury, but keeps in place restrictions on his statements about individual prosecutors and others involved in the case.

A separate order barring Trump or lawyers from either side from identifying members of the anonymous jury remains in effect, according to Tuesday's order from Justice Juan Merchan. Prosecutors said last week that Trump supporters had attempted to identify jurors and threatened violence against them.

"There is ample evidence to justify continued concern for the jurors," the judge wrote. 

The former president told Newsmax on Tuesday he felt it was unfair that the gag order was only partially lifted. "What does partial mean?" Trump said. "The gag order has to be lifted in its entirety."

Trump's lawyers argued the gag order was stifling his campaign speech and said it might limit his ability to respond to attacks from Democratic President Joe Biden during their forthcoming debate on Thursday.

In the first criminal trial of a U.S. president, a Manhattan jury on May 30 found Trump guilty of covering up his former lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who was threatening to go public before the 2016 election with her story of a sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump, elected to a four-year term that year, denies the alleged 2006 encounter and has vowed to appeal his conviction. Sentencing is scheduled for July 11, four days before his party convenes to formally nominate him to challenge Biden for president ahead of the Nov. 5 election. 

Merchan imposed the gag order before the trial began in April, finding that Trump's history of threatening statements posed a risk of derailing the proceedings.

The judge fined Trump $10,000 for violations of the order during the seven-week trial and warned him on May 6 that he would be jailed if he ran afoul of the order again.

A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office declined to comment. 

'FREE FROM THREATS'

In his order on Tuesday, Merchan wrote that circumstances had changed now that the trial was over. But he said the restriction on Trump's comments about individual prosecutors on the case, court staff and their families would remain in effect through his sentencing.

“Until sentence is imposed, all individuals covered ... must continue to perform their lawful duties free from threats, intimidation, harassment and harm,” the judge wrote. 

Bragg's office last week said limits on Trump's speech about trial witnesses were no longer needed. But they urged Merchan to keep the other restrictions in place, citing safety risks.

In a June 20 affidavit, the New York police officer in charge of Bragg’s security detail said Bragg, his family and his staff had received 61 threats in 2024.

These included a post disclosing the residential address of one of Bragg's employees, as well as a bomb threat to the homes of two people involved in the case on April 15 - the first day of Trump's trial - according to the affidavit. 

© Reuters. Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends a campaign event in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., June 22, 2024. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

Defense lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove in a June 11 court filing argued that holding Trump accountable for "harassing communications" by "independent third parties" violated his right to free speech.

The order does not prevent Trump from criticizing the case or from speaking about Merchan and Bragg. 

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