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Judge holds Trump in contempt for gag order violations

By AFP

April 30, 2024 08:56 PM


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The New York judge presiding over Donald Trump's hush money trial fined the former president on Tuesday for defying a gag order and warned that further violations could see him thrown in jail.

Judge Juan Merchan held the 77-year-old Trump in contempt of court for breaching an order that he not publicly attack witnesses, jurors or court staff and their relatives.

Merchan fined Trump $1,000 each for nine specific violations of the gag order and instructed him to remove seven "offending posts" from his Truth Social account and two from a campaign website by Tuesday afternoon.

Lamenting that he could not impose a fine "more commensurate with the wealth of the contemnor," the judge warned the former president that he could be sent to jail if he continued to violate the gag order.

"Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceration punishment," Merchan said.

The judge delivered his order before testimony resumed in Trump's historic trial on charges of falsifying business records to pay hush money to a porn star, Stormy Daniels.

Trump is the first former US president to face criminal charges, and his required attendance in court is limiting his time on the campaign trail less than seven months before his likely election rematch with Democrat Joe Biden.

The Republican is accused of false accounting to reimburse his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, for the $130,000 funneled to Daniels just days ahead of the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton.

Daniels, 45, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was threatening at the time to go public with her story about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump that could have potentially derailed his White House campaign.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels and has used appearances outside the Manhattan courtroom to rail against his indictment, claiming it is a "witch hunt" by Democrats to torpedo his bid to recapture the White House.

"I'd much rather be in Georgia. I'd much rather be in Florida," he told reporters on Tuesday. "I'd like to be able to campaign. Biden's out campaigning."

 'Catch and kill'

 Gary Farro, a former senior managing director of the now-defunct First Republic Bank, was on the witness stand on Tuesday.

Cohen, Trump's "fixer," set up an account at First Republic in the name of a company called Essential Consultants to arrange for the payment to Daniels.

"Had the bank known Cohen was acting for someone else, there would have been more paperwork," Farro said. "Had a client told me this was a shell company, I wouldn't have opened it."

"(Cohen) was a challenging client because of his desire to get things done quickly," Farro added. "Ninety percent of the time it was an urgent matter."

Cohen, who has become a vocal Trump critic, and Daniels are expected to be star prosecution witnesses.

Before Farro's testimony, the judge granted Trump's request that he be allowed to attend the May 17 high school graduation of his youngest son, Barron.

The opening of the trial was dominated last week by testimony by a former tabloid publisher who said he suppressed potentially damaging stories about Trump.

David Pecker, 72, outlined a scheme known as "catch and kill," which involved buying and then burying salacious stories that could have been embarrassing to the real estate tycoon and harmed his campaign.

The former National Enquirer publisher told the court he paid $30,000 to kill a story from a Trump Tower doorman peddling a false claim that Trump had fathered a child out of wedlock.

He said $150,000 was paid to squash a story from Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who claimed to have had a year-long affair with Trump.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of allegedly mishandling classified documents after leaving the White House.


AFP


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