Will Trump Be Punished for Attacking Judge’s Daughter? He Doesn’t Think So

Some of Donald Trump’s personal lawyers have been urging him to show a dose of restraint in the courtroom when his hush-money trial finally begins in New York City. But ahead of the historic criminal trial, scheduled to start in two weeks, the former president has relentlessly attacked the judge and his daughter.

Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing Trump’s criminal trial, last week imposed a gag order barring Trump from making any public comments about the court’s staff and their family members. Trump quickly tested out this order by publicly slamming Merchan and his daughter online. On Monday night, Merchan expanded the gag order to include his family, following a request by District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Merchan wrote that Trump’s “pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose.” He continued, “The average observer, must now, after hearing [Trump’s] recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitute … a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

According to two people who have recently spoken to Trump about the upcoming criminal trial, one of the reasons the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee has been convinced he can get away with attacking Merchan’s daughter without punishment is because, as he’s privately boasted, he has tested judges and prosecutors on gag orders before — without any serious repercussions.

This included a time late last year when Judge Arthur Engoron threatened Trump with a possible night in jail for his behavior during his New York civil fraud trial. Every time, Trump has gotten away with it. So far, judges have not moved to rein in or punish Trump the way they would with virtually any other U.S. citizen, had they behaved in the same manner that the ex-president has.

So now, the former — and perhaps future — president seems emboldened to bring that aggressive, taunting approach to his history-making criminal trial.

“A criminal trial is different than a civil one, so this could turn out differently,” one of the sources tells Rolling Stone. “But from talking to [Trump] about this … you can tell he thinks these guys have tried to be tough guys, tried to rattle him, and then, it was all talk. He’s said this time it’s the same: He has to show he’s not afraid of these people, simple as that.”

Reached for comment on this story, Trump’s spokesman Steven Cheung says, without elaborating: “These sources don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.” Trump’s attorneys did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

The New York criminal case revolves around payments, including to porn star Stormy Daniels, that prosecutors allege Trump ordered to be paid out to suppress potentially embarrassing news stories in order to boost his 2016 presidential campaign.

Ahead of the Manhattan trial, even some of Trump’s defenders have cautioned him to tone it down, if only in court, if the former leader of the free world can’t help himself online.

“The Trump team ought to assume that there is going to be a criminal conviction,” celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who was on Trump’s legal defense for his first impeachment, told Rolling Stone last month. “Focus on the appeal, not the trial … I think Trump is right to consider these cases political, and he is right to respond to these cases publicly by saying they’re political. But he shouldn’t give the other side any hook to hang their hats on by engaging in histrionics inside the courtroom, whether on the stand or seated at this table with his attorneys.”

With the trial set to kick off April 15, Trump is about to find out just how much he’ll be able to get away with, as the Manhattan district attorney seeks to make him a convicted felon in the middle of an election year.

Trump quickly tested the outer boundaries of the original gag order imposed by Merchan by publicly assailing his daughter.

Within the past week, Trump has on four separate occasions attacked the daughter, a Democratic consultant. In one instance, Trump claimed she had used an image of the former president behind bars in her social media profile picture, asserting that the photo meant it was “completely impossible for me to get a fair trial” and calling on the judge to recuse himself.

It turns out that the social media account no longer belongs to Merchan’s daughter — and the image was apparently a hoax.

Trump and his team have further tried to argue that the daughter’s consulting work is also grounds for Merchan’s recusal from the case. She has served as an executive at Authentic Campaigns, a digital advertising firm that works with California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff’s Senate campaign as well as Senate Democrats’s primary super PAC, Senate Majority PAC.

Over the weekend, Trump posted a link to a New York Post story about the daughter’s consulting firm having worked for these committees. The piece states that the daughter’s clients had “used the case in their solicitation emails,” asserting this raised concerns that Merchan “has a major conflict of interest.”

“This is a disgrace to our Legal System,” Trump wrote. “Judge Merchan should be immediately sanctioned and recused, and this fake ‘case,’ only kept alive by the Highly Conflicted Judge, should be completely dismissed right away.”

Trump’s campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung told the Post that the judge’s daughter “is actively making money from this sham attack against President Trump, rendering Judge Merchan conflicted out.” The Post further reported that “Trump’s attorneys are considering filing another motion demanding Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan recuse himself from the trial set to begin April 15.”

On Monday, Bragg reiterated his request last week to expand the gag order to expressly cover Merchan’s daughter, with his lawyers writing in a new filing: “There is no constitutional right to target the family of this court, let alone on the blatant falsehoods that have served as the flimsiest pretexts for defendant’s attacks.”

Trump’s lawyers pushed back against the move from Bragg, arguing that Trump has a right to comment on Merchan’s daughter because the judge hasn’t recused himself.

“President Trump’s comments concerning [Merchan’s] daughter are, properly understood, a criticism of the court’s prior decision not to recuse itself,” the lawyers wrote in a filing — arguing there’s effectively no difference between criticism of the court and the judge’s daughter because the attacks relate to a “member of the court’s immediate family having a financial interest in all ongoing attacks on President Trump, including this case, by virtue of her senior role at Authentic.”

The lawyers further indicated they planned to request permission to formally demand Merchan’s recusal in the case, writing that “President Trump is simultaneously submitting a pre-motion letter seeking leave to file a recusal motion based on changed circumstances and newly discovered evidence.”

After Merchan expanded the gag order, Trump posted on his Truth Social website that “I was just informed that another corrupt New York Judge, Juan Merchan, GAGGED me so that I can not talk about the corruption and conflicts taking place in his courtroom.”

The former president called on the judge to recuse himself, adding: “There has virtually never been a more conflicted judge than this one. ELECTION INTERFERENCE at its worst.”

Note: This piece has been updated to note Judge Juan Merchan’s decision to expand the gag order in Trump’s New York City criminal trial.

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