Hush-money prosecutors want to keep Trump under a gag order even though his trial is over

  • Donald Trump's legal team has asked the judge in his Manhattan trial to lift his gag order.

  • Without it, Trump could attack Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, the judge's daughter, and jurors.

  • Prosecutors asked the judge to keep the gag on at least through his sentencing.

The prosecutors in former President Donald Trump's hush-money case want him to remain under a gag order, warning that lifting it would threaten court proceedings and "interfere with the fair administration of justice."

The former president has spent much of the six weeks of his criminal trial — which concluded Thursday with a thundering guilty verdict on all 34 counts — complaining about the gag.

On Tuesday, his legal team asked the judge who presided over the trial to lift his gag order, which would give him a free hand to seek vengeance by criticizing witnesses and jurors.

The order from New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan forbade Trump from saying anything about possible witnesses, staff members at the Manhattan district attorney's office, court staff, or any of their family members, as well as jurors.

It frustrated Trump, who sought to cast several witnesses as part of a political conspiracy. Before the trial, he used his bully pulpit to frequently antagonize Michael Cohen, the key witness in the trial and Trump's former personal lawyer, who had his own legal problems. And aside from his lawyer's cross-examination, Trump couldn't respond to testimony from Stormy Daniels, the porn star who was paid to stay quiet ahead of the 2016 election about the affair she says she had with him.

In a letter to the judge on Tuesday, Trump's lead lawyer, Todd Blanche, said that the basis for a gag order "no longer exists" and that Trump ought to be able to react to comments from Cohen and Daniels, as well as from President Joe Biden.

"Now that the trial is concluded, the concerns articulated by the government and the Court do not justify continued restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump — who remains the leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election — and the American people," Blanche wrote.

On Wednesday, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office responded, urging Merchan to keep the gag on at least through Trump's sentencing hearing, scheduled for July 11, as well as post-trial motions that lead up to a formal appeal.

Lifting the gag could threaten "the integrity of the judicial proceedings" and potentially "intimidate the Court," prosecutors wrote.

Trump criticized the gag order in near-daily comments to journalists outside the Manhattan courtroom during the trial. He frequently complained that he couldn't use "specific names" in his tirades about the proceedings and that he ought to be able to speak freely because of his status as a candidate in the 2024 presidential election.

Merchan's orders approved the district attorney's request to restrict extrajudicial statements "for the duration of the trial," which technically ended with the jury verdict Thursday.

But Trump's lawyers didn't immediately ask for the gag order to be lifted. At a press conference in Trump Tower on Friday, Trump continued to complain about the "nasty gag order" he was under.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Blanche said that he believed the gag had been lifted but that he wasn't sure and wanted "to be careful and understand when it no longer applies."

Trump violated the gag order numerous times, risking jail

During the trial, Trump violated the gag order on 10 different occasions, Merchan found. The judge held the former president in contempt of court and ordered him to pay the maximum $1,000 for each violation.

Trump — a billionaire who uses political donor money to pay his legal fees — appeared undeterred, leading Merchan to say he'd also consider jailing Trump.

"You are the former President of the United States and possibly the next President, as well," Merchan told Trump at a May 6 hearing in the middle of the trial. "There are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for me. To take that step would be disruptive to these proceedings, which I imagine you want to end as quickly as possible."

In the weeks since, Trump has toned down his rhetoric, specifically targeting Cohen and others, though he brought a steady stream of political allies to the courthouse who made some of the same criticisms before TV cameras.

If Merchan lifts the gag order, it would leave Trump free to attack Cohen and other witnesses more explicitly, allowing him to sharpen his argument that the prosecution was politically motivated.

It would also allow him to attack Merchan's daughter, a political consultant for Democratic politicians. Trump may also resume attacks on Matthew Colangelo, a prosecutor in the case who'd previously worked in a senior position in the US Justice Department, which Trump claims is evidence that Biden orchestrated the case against him.

Trump may also choose to target jurors with his political megaphone. Although Merchan took steps to keep their names hidden from the public, they weren't sequestered, and reports say some of Trump's supporters have sought to identify and threaten them.

But any of Trump's public attacks and lack of remorse for the crimes he was convicted of could also find their way into a sentencing memo from prosecutors, which would allow the judge to weigh them before deciding Trump's punishment for his conviction. The public comments — and previously determined gag-order violations — could lead Merchan to issue a harsher punishment.

This story has been updated with the response from the Manhattan District Attorney's office.

Read the original article on Business Insider