Trump faces an expanded gag order. It won’t stop the death threats.

<span>Donald Trump in court in New York on Monday.</span><span>Photograph: AFP/Getty Images</span>
Donald Trump in court in New York on Monday.Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

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On the docket: gag orders and death threats

When Judge Juan Merchan issued a gag order last week to bar former president Donald Trump from attacking potential witnesses and others involved in his pending hush-money trial in New York, he left open a loophole that Trump jumped to exploit.

The former president immediately went on the attack against Merchan’s own daughter, falsely accusing her of posting social media content that called for Trump to be jailed.

Merchan’s original gag order had covered potential trial witnesses, jurors, district attorney Alvin Bragg’s staff and Merchan’s staff while excluding the prosecutor and the judge – but hadn’t explicitly included Merchan’s and Bragg’s family members.

Merchan responded by expanding the gag order on Monday to cover their families, writing that Trump’s attacks on his daughter were part of a broader pattern of attacking family members of the judges and attorneys involved in his cases that “serves no legitimate purpose. It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

That pattern has played out in case after case – and if the past is prologue, his supporters will take it one step further. When Trump attacks those involved in his cases, death threats soon follow.

Bragg, whom Trump has called an “animal” and “degenerate psychopath”, and Merchan, who he’s claimed “HATES ME”, have received death threats ever since the case began.

They’re not the only ones. The final day of Trump’s New York state business fraud case in January was delayed for hours after a bomb threat was called in on the home of Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over the case. Those threats continued: an envelope addressed to Engoron that contained white powder was sent to his offices at the courthouse in late February, prompting an emergency response from fire and police departments.

Trump and his team targeted Engoron, his family and his clerk with vitriolic criticism throughout the trial, including posting on social media screenshots of anti-Trump posts that Trump falsely claimed had been written by Engoron’s wife. Engoron issued a gag order in October barring Trump from attacking his staff – which Trump proceeded to violate, earning a $5,000 penalty.

Trump has been doing this for years. In 2016, he attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who oversaw the class-action trial against Trump University, calling him a “total disgrace” and arguing that because of the judge’s “Mexican heritage” he was biased against Trump.

And it’s not cheap for those targeted. The Department of Justice spent $14.6m from April to September of last year on security to protect special counsel Jack Smith, whose office is prosecuting Trump in his DC election interference case and Florida classified documents case.

These threats have popped up in Trump’s Georgia case, as well. Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis’s father testified in mid-February that she had moved “something like four times” since the case began because of death threats, and said he’d intentionally avoided learning where she lived so that if “somebody stuck a gun to my head ... I didn’t want to know”.

Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, testified in February that Willis had originally asked him to lead Trump’s prosecution – and he’d turned it down in part because, he told her: “I wasn’t going to live with bodyguards for the rest of my life.”

It’s easy to get lost in all of the important court drama. But as Trump prepares for his first criminal trial starting 15 April, it’s worth remembering the real-life price that is being paid by those involved in hearing and prosecuting these cases.

Those threats have a chilling effect on those involved in the trials, from witnesses to jurors to the judges themselves. As Merchan wrote in his revised gag order: “It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real.”

Calendar crunch

Guardian US reporter Hugo Lowell explains that Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon’s foot-dragging on setting any deadlines for Trump’s classified documents criminal case is making it more and more likely that the trial won’t happen in July, as prosecutors have proposed. It’s playing directly into Trump’s delay strategy, which includes trying to get this trial scheduled for August in order to block the time that his DC election interference criminal trial could take place before the 2024 election.

Lowell writes: “Trump has not had to strain himself to engineer such an outcome: Cannon’s own inaction in the case has made a trial in July unrealistic. Trump was indicted in federal district court last year for violating the Espionage Act in keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club, which means his case is proceeding to trial under the complicated and sequential rules of the Classified Information Procedures Act, or Cipa. … Even if Cannon issued new deadlines for Cipa now, the timeline as suggested by prosecutors would potentially be multiple weeks behind schedule, making it more likely that Cannon is left with no choice but to adopt Trump’s proposed schedule and August trial date.”

More than a month has passed since Cannon heard the two sides’ arguments on when to schedule the trial, and she still hasn’t made a decision.


Trump’s attorney filed a letter on Tuesday asking Judge Merchan to allow them to file a motion for Merchan recuse himself from overseeing Trump’s New York hush money trial because, the letter claims, Merchan’s gag order restricts Trump’s “ability to engage in protected campaign speech,” and arguing that because Merchan’s daughter runs a progressive media consulting firm, a conflict of interest exists. Merchan has previously rejected similar efforts from Trump’s attorneys and will likely do so again this time.

Trump posted a $175m bond in his New York civil fraud case on Monday as he appeals the $454m judgment levied against him for inflating his business assets’ worth to secure better loan terms. He was able to post the bond after an appeals court ruled last week that he didn’t need to put up the entire $454m in bond, a sum his lawyers said he wasn’t able to do. That ruling allowed Trump to keep his business empire intact – for now – and blocked the state of New York from beginning to seize assets including his real estate properties. That same three-judge appeals court panel will ultimately decide whether the original judgment against Trump will stand.

Attorneys for Trump and eight of his co-defendants on Friday appealed Judge Scott McAfee’s decision to allow the Fulton county district attorney, Fani Willis, to continue to lead his criminal prosecution in Georgia. Willis’s office is expected to respond soon; the Georgia appellate court will then have up to 45 days to determine whether or not to overturn his decision.

The value of Trump’s stock in Truth Social dropped by $1b to $3.83b as the company’s stock plunged by more than 20%, after filings revealed it had lost $58m in 2023 and had just $4m in revenue.

• Hope Hicks, a top Trump campaign and White House aide, is expected to be called to testify in his New York hush-money criminal trial, according to CNN.

Cronies & casualties

The Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s Georgia co-defendants, requested that Judge Scott McAfee hold an evidentiary hearing on his motion to dismiss the charges against him – his latest attempt to try to assert immunity, which other judges have repeatedly rejected. If he gets what he wants, Meadows could have to testify under oath – in a courtroom that allows cameras.

A judge ruled last Wednesday that John Eastman, the chief architect of Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election loss (and one of Trump’s co-defendants in his Georgia criminal case), should lose his license to practice law in California. Eastman can appeal the ruling to the California supreme court.

An attorney for the former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark, who backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, claimed during Clark’s disbarment proceedings in DC that Trump had indeed named Clark acting attorney general for a brief time on 3 January 2021 before changing his mind when a number of Trump’s attorneys threatened to resign in protest. Clark repeatedly invoked his fifth amendment rights against self-incrimination as he testified at the hearings.

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