Trump’s alleged gag order violations in hush money trial were response to insults, his lawyer says

NEW YORK — A judge considered holding Donald Trump in contempt yet again on Thursday for more potential gag order violations as his hush money trial resumed in Manhattan.

Before jurors took their seats for the day, state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan heard arguments from prosecutors and the former president’s attorneys concerning four more instances of Trump publicly commenting on witnesses and jurors in the case.

Prosecutor Chris Conroy said Trump should be fined another $4,000 for public remarks he made about the jury and witnesses like David Pecker and his former fixer, Michael Cohen.

But Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said his client had not willfully violated the order and was defending himself against criticism as a presidential candidate. He said constant taunts by Cohen, like recently calling Trump “Von Sh--zInPantz,” were essentially “daring” him to respond.

On Tuesday, the judge imposed $9,000 in sanctions for similar comments Trump made and reposted in nine offending Truth Social posts. Merchan did not immediately rule on the latest alleged violations but sounded unconvinced by arguments by Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, defending his comments about the jury.

After the hearing, attorney Keith Davidson continued testifying about the hush money he negotiated for his clients Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal on the eve of the 2016 election. The Los Angeles lawyer repped the two women as they mulled coming forward with allegations of extramarital trysts with Trump early into his marriage to Melania.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies alleging he repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to cover up reimbursement to his former fixer for a hush-money scheme to hide damaging information from the voting public in 2016. Trump denies the affairs or that he did anything illegal.

Davidson in shock over Trump White House win: “What have we done?”

Davidson’s descriptions of his chaotic eleventh-hour negotiations with Cohen to buy Daniels’ silence on the eve of the election stood in contrast to team Trump’s position that efforts to silence the women were executed to protect his reputation and his family rather than win him the election.

Prosecutors displayed a text Davidson sent Dylan Howard, the former editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer, the night Trump was elected, reading,

“What have we done?”

“Oh my god,” Howard replied.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass asked Davidson what he meant.

“This was, eh, this was sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in. There was sort of surprise among the broadcasters and others that Donald Trump was leading in the polls and … there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election,” Davidson said.

“I think that there was an understanding that … our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.”

Davidson Tuesday walked the jury through how he helped negotiate a $150,000 payment for McDougal and $130,000 for Daniels’ story in the months and days before the election.

The attorney said the McDougal payment came after he tipped off Howard about her allegations of a monthslong affair with Trump around 2006 and that they inked the deal in August 2016 with the understanding that her story would never be published.

The lawyer testified that a deal reached between the supermarket tabloid, and Daniels fell apart in the weeks ahead of the election, with David Pecker, the head of its parent company, American Media Inc., worrying an association with a porn star could hurt his brand.

Davidson said that left him forced to deal directly with Cohen, Trump’s fixer.

When the lawyer returned to the stand Thursday, prosecutors displayed a copy of the finalized agreement with Daniels, which he said was for “attorneys’ eyes only.” It included Trump’s name, with an earlier version referring to him and Daniels under pseudonyms.

Davidson describes Trump fixer as “suicidal” after 2016 election

Davidson said Cohen — who he’s described as a “pants on fire” kind of guy — became increasingly frantic after the election when his boss still hadn’t paid him back for paying Daniels $130,000 to stay silent.

Recalling a phone call he received from Cohen in December 2016, Davidson said Trump’s then-personal lawyer sounded “depressed and despondent,” later saying he sounded suicidal.

“Jesus Christ. Can you f--king believe I’m not going to Washington after everything I’ve done for that f--king guy? I can’t believe I’m not going to Washington. I’ve saved that guy’s ass so many times you don’t even know,” Davidson quoted Cohen.

Davidson, who rejected descriptions of the payments to his clients as “hush money” — preferring “a consideration” — said he was in an impossible position by January 2017, when Cohen, enraged by articles including Daniels’ allegations, wanted Daniels to deny rumors Trump cheated on his wife with her, and his client wanted to talk.

Jurors saw a flurry of texts Cohen sent Daniels’ lawyer in rapid fire when she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel that month and claimed it wasn’t her signature on a statement denying an encounter with Trump.

Cohen can be a “very aggressive guy, aggressive in his pursuits to protect his client,” Davidson testified when asked by Steinglass whether he ever threatened to sue Daniels — recalling Trump’s fixer threatening to “rain legal hell down upon her.”

“Don’t f--k with us. You don’t know who you’re f--king with,” he quoted him.

Davidson later testified that Cohen would ask him to pen a statement to then-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo claiming Cohen had paid off Daniels, not Trump. Trump’s side has previously claimed that Cohen went rogue in paying off the porn star.

Trump, wearing a navy blue suit to court and a yellow tie, reclined back in his chair at the defense table as jurors listened to the testimony.

Prosecutors want more sanctions

Conroy alleged Trump had sought to “infect and disrupt” the proceedings by his repeated remarks, which he said included comments just hours before the last contempt hearing on Tuesday. Merchan at the time said further violations could result in jail.

“It’s not just any jurors, it’s these jurors in this case who are going to be sitting here in a few minutes,” Conroy said, citing comments disseminated by Trump claiming the “jury was picked so fast, 95% Democrats.”

“By talking about the jury at all, he places this process and this proceeding here in jeopardy.”

Mechan imposed a gag order before the trial started prohibiting Trump from making public statements — or directing others to — about trial participants, later expanding it to include the judge and District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s relatives in light of Trump’s history of “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” comments about people involved in his myriad cases.

Describing other comments Trump made about key witness David Pecker— calling him a “nice guy” — as “deliberate” and “calculated,” Conroy asked the judge to reject the ex-president’s claims that his remarks were innocuous, calling them “deliberate shots across the bow.”

Conroy said the prosecution was “not yet” requesting the judge jail Trump for repeatedly violating his order in the interest of efficiency and not bogging down the trial.

Blanche said his client had not willfully violated the order and was defending himself against criticism as a presidential candidate. He said constant taunts by Cohen, like recently calling Trump “Von Sh–zInPantz,” were essentially “daring” him to respond.

Blanche also cited President Biden’s remarks about the trial at the White House Correspondents Dinner, which mentioned Trump facing “stormy weather,” which he called “an obvious reference to Stormy Daniels.”

“He can’t just say ‘no comment’ repeatedly. He’s running for president,” Blanche said.

Merchan said nothing in the gag order prevented Trump from responding to the president. He did not indicate when he would rule on the prosecution’s request.