Trump held in contempt for violating gag order in New York hush money trial News
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Trump held in contempt for violating gag order in New York hush money trial

Former US President Donald Trump was held in criminal contempt and fined $9,000 Tuesday for multiple violations of a gag order imposed last month in his New York hush money trial.

In the weeks leading up to Trump’s criminal trial for alleged hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels, New York’s supreme court issued an order banning the defendant — a famously prolific social media poster — from making extrajudicial statements that could sway jurors and witnesses.

According to court documents, prosecutors moved for a finding that Trump had violated the order, arguing he had posted and reposted illicit content on at least 10 occasions via his social media platform Truth Social and his campaign website. Trump did not dispute that he had posted or reposted the content, but claimed the content fell short of violating the order, arguing among other points that they contained “protected political speech” and that reposts do not carry the same legal weight as posts.

Citing a lack of legal precedent, Judge Juan Merchan relied on “common sense” in finding that the reposts at issue in this instance carried the same legal weight as posts. The judge emphasized that both Trump’s Truth Social profile and his campaign website are curated sources of information exclusively representing his views and opinions and that his aim in reposting this content was to maximize visibility:

Defendant curated the posts at issue and then took the necessary steps to publish the posts on his Truth Social account and on his campaign website. In doing so, he endorsed the posts with one purpose in mind – to maximize viewership and to communicate his stamp of approval. … Thus, there can be no doubt whatsoever, that Defendant’s intent and purpose when reposting, is to communicate to his audience that he endorses and adopts the posted statement as his own. It is counterintuitive and indeed absurd, to read the [gag order] to not proscribe statements that Defendant intentionally selected and published to maximize exposure.

The court was also unconvinced of the protected political speech argument in all but one case. To preserve his First Amendment free speech rights, the gag order permits Trump to respond to political attacks. In the case of one of the posts at issue in Tuesday’s order, the court found there was enough of a “tenuous connection” to justify Trump’s post as a response to a political attack. But, the court determined, to allow attacks on high-level witnesses with “blanket assertions that they are all responses to ‘political attacks’ would be an exception that swallowed the rule.”

Merchan thus determined Trump willfully disobeyed a lawful mandate with respect to the remaining nine posts and ordered to pay $1,000 for each of them. The court also ordered him to remove all of the offending posts by Tuesday afternoon and warned that future willful violations of the order could result in incarceration. As of the time of publication, the nine offending posts had evidently been deleted.

Trump responded by lashing out at Merchan via his Truth Social account:

This Judge has taken away my Constitutional Right to FREE SPEECH. I am the only Presidential Candidate in History to be GAGGED. This whole “Trial” is RIGGED, and by taking away my FREEDOM OF SPEECH, THIS HIGHLY CONFLICTED JUDGE IS RIGGING THE PRESIDENTIAL OF 2024 ELECTION. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!

The hush money case is but one of several cases currently pending against Trump in US courts and one of four pending criminal cases against the former president.

Trump was previously issued a gag order in his federal election interference criminal case, which he unsuccessfully challenged before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The former president was also given a gag order in his New York civil fraud trial, which a state appeals court also upheld.