Trump hush cash gag order partially lifted earlier than Biden debate

Former U.S. President Donald Trump walks to speak to the media after being found guilty following his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 30, 2024.

Seth Wenig | Afp | Getty Images

A New York judge on Tuesday lifted parts of a gag order imposed on former President Donald Trump in his criminal hush money case, but kept some restrictions in place until Trump is sentenced.

The decision from Judge Juan Merchan came two days before Trump is set to face off against President Joe Biden in the first of two presidential debates.

Merchan struck parts of the gag order that barred Trump from making public statements about witnesses or jurors in the Manhattan Supreme Court trial, which ended on May 30 in Trump’s conviction on 34 criminal counts.

But Merchan ruled that Trump is still bound by the order’s restrictions on speaking about lawyers and staff for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the court, plus any of their family members, if those statements could interfere with the case. Trump is allowed to speak about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The speech limitations “were overwhelmingly supported by the record,” Merchan wrote, noting that two appellate courts in New York rejected Trump’s efforts to appeal the gag order.

“However, circumstances have now changed,” the judge wrote. “The trial portion of these proceedings ended when the verdict was rendered, and the jury discharged.”

Merchan wrote that his “strong preference” was to extend protections for members of the jury, adding that “there is ample evidence to justify continued concern for the jurors.” While he lifted that piece of the gag order, the judge ruled that a prohibition on disclosing juror information will remain in effect until further notice.

The trial centered on accusations that Trump falsified business records as part of a scheme to cover up a hush money payment made shortly before the 2016 presidential election to porn star Stormy Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump years earlier.

Trump is set to be sentenced on July 11. Each of the felony counts against him carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison, though many experts expect Merchan will deliver a much lighter sentence that includes no time behind bars.

Trump raged against the gag order when it was first imposed on March 26, about three weeks before the trial began. Merchan expanded the gag order less than a week later, after Trump repeatedly targeted the judge’s adult daughter over her work for a Democratic political firm.

Trump violated the gag order 10 times during the historic trial. Merchan repeatedly held Trump in contempt of court and warned him that future infringements could land him in jail. The judge also ordered Trump to pay the maximum fine of $1,000 for each violation.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung in a statement Tuesday criticized Merchan for declining to lift the entire gag order.

“This is another unlawful decision by a highly conflicted judge, which is blatantly un-American as it gags President Trump, the leading candidate in the 2024 Presidential Election during the upcoming Presidential Debate on Thursday,” Cheung said.

Trump’s legal team “will immediately challenge” the order, Cheung said.

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