Trump waits on possible fine as judge set for gag order ruling

Donald Trump could learn on Thursday whether he will be fined for breaching the terms of the gag order imposed on him at his hush money trial in New York after repeatedly denouncing the case to reporters outside the courthouse and on his Truth Social platform.

Judge Juan Merchan, presiding over the Republican presidential candidate’s trial at Manhattan Criminal Court, held a hearing on Tuesday after Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg’s prosecutors complained that Mr Trump had violated the terms of the order in 10 separate social media posts.

The prosecution is seeking a $1,000 fine for each offending post, or $10,000 in total, but is “not yet” asking for jail time as punishment as they seek to stop the defendant from publicly discrediting key participants or intimidating witnesses or jurors with baseless attacks on the proceedings.

Judge Merchan heard arguments from both sides on Tuesday morning, at one stage warning Mr Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche that he was “losing all credibility”, but did not ultimately deliver a ruling.

Mr Blanche has argued that his client’s posts were responses to “political” attacks but failed to offer up any examples of what, exactly, Mr Trump was responding to.

“You presented nothing,” Judge Merchan said at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing as he grew increasingly frustrated with the defence.

“You’re losing all credibility, I’ll tell you that right now,” he added.

He is expected to offer an update on the matter when the court reconvenes on Thursday morning after a recess day on Wednesday.

Among the posts raised by the prosecution was one from 15 April in which Mr Trump referred to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, expected to be a key witness, as a “serial perjurer”, and one from 17 April in which he posted a clip of Fox News host Jesse Watters warning of “undercover liberal activists” among the jury pool at a time when jury selection for the trial was still ongoing.

Manhattan assistant district attorney Christopher Conroy told the judge during the hearing that Mr Trump has a habit of saying “whatever he wants to say to get the results he wants” and accused the defendant of “knowingly and willfully breaching the crystal clear, unequivocal lines drawn up by the court”.

Donald Trump meets construction workers in midtown Manhattan on Thursday 25 April (Getty)
Donald Trump meets construction workers in midtown Manhattan on Thursday 25 April (Getty)

Mr Trump has repeatedly insisted, without evidence, that the case brought against him is a “scam” and part of a “witch hunt” being orchestrated on behalf of President Joe Biden to tie him up in court and prevent him from campaigning for the presidency, attacking Mr Bragg, Judge Merchan and even the justice’s daughter in posts alleging “election interference”, the very crime of which he himself stands accused.

The former president was indicted by Mr Bragg in April last year on 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide a $130,000 hush money payment made on his behalf to the adult film star Stormy Daniels in order to ensure her silence over a sexual encounter she alleges they had in 2006 to prevent it having a negative influence on Mr Trump’s 2016 run against Hillary Clinton.

The defendant denies both the affair and the charges against him, but his increasingly personal attacks left Judge Merchan with little choice but to impose the gag order last month.