Judge threatens Trump with jail time: 5 takeaways from Trump trial Day 12

Former President Trump faced a new threat in his New York criminal trial on Monday.

Judge Juan Merchan raised the possibility that he could send Trump to jail if he continues to violate a gag order.

Merchan warned about that possibility after fining Trump for the 10th time for breaking the order, which bars the former president from attacking jurors, court officials and members of the judge’s family, among others.

Trump has complained about the gag order, contending that his rights are being violated.

Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. It is the first criminal trial of a former president.

The underlying argument from prosecutors is that Trump was seeking to conceal a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the final stretch of the 2016 election campaign.

The money was intended to stop Daniels from going public with her story of having sex with Trump roughly a decade earlier. The money was paid to Daniels by Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who was later reimbursed.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels or doing anything illegal.

Here are five takeaways from Monday’s proceedings.

Specter of jail looms for Trump

Disputes over the gag order have been central to the drama of the trial.

Merchan’s comments threatening Trump with jail came as he levied another $1,000 fine on the former president. The decision brought Trump’s total fines in the case to $10,000.

The initial ruling on Monday could have been worse for Trump. The single instance where Merchan found a violation was one of four comments from the former president that prosecutors had tagged.

But the judge also complained that Trump’s public comments on the trial, which have come in interviews and on social media, “threaten to interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

“I can’t allow that to continue,” Merchan said.

The judge’s written order stated that “if appropriate and warranted,” new violations “will be punishable by incarceration.”

It is possible that jailing Trump would accrue to his political benefit by revving up his most fervent supporters even more.

For now, it was startling to hear a former president directly threatened with jail time — regardless of what verdict is reached in the case itself.

More is revealed about the hush money payments

Monday saw new details about the mechanics of the reimbursement payments come to light.

This happened during the testimony of Jeffrey McConney, the former corporate controller of the Trump Organization.

McConney noted how the reimbursement of Cohen, which was paid in installments, came initially from a Trump trust and, later, from the former president’s personal account. In total, of the $420,000 ultimately paid to Cohen, $105,000 came from the trust and $315,000 from Trump’s personal funds.

As was previously known, Cohen was reimbursed $420,000 for a $130,000 expense because the money was “grossed up” to include the various taxes he would have to pay. A $60,000 bonus was also included.

Trump had been elected as the 45th president by the time Cohen was being reimbursed. Some of the personal checks had to be sent from New York to the White House for Trump’s signature, McConney testified.

A second Trump Organization witness on Monday, Deborah Tarasoff, testified that the checks would be sent to Washington by FedEx and would come back with Trump’s signature, characteristically signed with a sharpie.

Trump’s defense: What’s the problem?

When the New York indictment was announced by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) 13 months ago, even some legal experts with no love for Trump worried the case was questionable.

Trump’s alleged offense only becomes a felony rather than a misdemeanor if it is committed in furtherance of another crime.

The prosecution’s case here is that Trump’s alleged record falsification was intended to help him win the 2016 election and therefore amounts to election interference. But the former president has not been charged with any election-law offense.

In addition, Trump’s team argues that the classification of the payments to Cohen as a legal expense is fair and accurate — and so there is no case to answer.

Trump’s team may have made progress in this regard on Monday with some rather withering questions to McConney.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove drew agreement from the former controller when he asked drily whether “payments to lawyers are legal expenses.”

Bove also got McConney to agree that verbal agreements for legal representation can be valid — a relevant detail because McConney had earlier testified he had never seen any written agreement for Cohen at the time.

A nod to The Apprentice

Monday’s testimony included a detail that recalled Trump’s hit reality TV show, NBC’s “The Apprentice.”

McConney recalled how, back in the 1980s, he went into Trump’s office only to be told “You’re fired” — the phrase that would become a catchphrase.

Trump did not actually want to get rid of McConney. But the future president was irked that his level of cash had gone down during the previous week.

Trump suggested that McConney could “negotiate” bills downward to avoid this happening again.

Reporters in the courtroom said Trump appeared to enjoy the story.

Prosecution says two more weeks to make its case

Merchan has pressed hard to make sure the trial proceeds as expeditiously as possible.

That seems to be working so far. At the end of Monday’s proceedings, the prosecution team said they needed about two more weeks to make their case.

Trump complained to reporters immediately after court had adjourned for the day that this was too long, adding, “I thought they were going to be finished today.”

In fact, the trial was widely forecast to last about six weeks. It still seems broadly on course for that time frame.

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