Appeals court rejects Trump’s attempt to throw out gag order in hush money trial

Donald Trump has failed to overturn a gag order that blocks him from publicly attacking witnesses and jurors during his criminal hush money trial in New York.

On Tuesday, a New York appeals court rejected Mr Trump’s request to throw out the gag order, saying Justice Juan Merchan “properly determined that petitioner’s public statements posed a significant threat to the integrity of the testimony of witnesses and potential witnesses.”

Since the trial began last month, Mr Trump has repeatedly raged against his fixer-turned-nemesis, Michael Cohen, the judge and prosecutors. Judge Merchan implemented a gag order to protect witnesses and the integrity of the trial.

Mr Trump and his lawyers argued the gag order violated his First Amendment right. A state appeals court had already rejected Mr Trump’s attempt to stall the trial while he challenged the constitutionality of the gag order.

Last week, lawyers for the former president asked a state appeals court to issue a ruling quickly on his challenge, or allow them to take their request to a higher court.

That motion followed a ruling from Judge Merchan who warned Mr Trump could be jailed for any future violations of the gag order. Mr Trump has already violated the gag order 10 times in the trial’s first few weeks.

Donald Trump speaks on 14 May as his hush money trial continues in New York court (EPA)
Donald Trump speaks on 14 May as his hush money trial continues in New York court (EPA)

On 30 April, Justice Merchan fined Mr Trump $9,000 for a series of statements attacking trial witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

Manhattan prosecutors had accused Mr Trump of “knowingly and wilfully breaching the crystal clear, unequivocal lines drawn up by the court.”

On 6 May, following another motion by prosecutors, Judge Merchan fined Mr Trump $1,000 for a statement criticizing the makeup of the jury.

He also warned Mr Trump that he would consider sending him to prison for any future violations.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent,” Judge Merchan said. “It’s important to understand that the last thing I want to do is to put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president, as well.”

Jail remains “truly a last resort” as it would disrupt the proceedings, court staff and law enforcement, said the judge, adding that “the magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me.”

“But at the end of the day I have a job to do, and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the justice system,” he said. “Your continued violations … threaten to interfere with the administration of justice, and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

The judge and lead prosecutors are not protected by the gag order but their families as well as jurors and other court staff are off-limits.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with alleged reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels in a “catch-and-kill” scheme that buried her story of an alleged affair with the former president ahead of the 2016 election.

The former president has pleaded not guilty and has denied the affair.