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Saturday May 25, 2024

Judge tells Trump’s lawyer he is losing all credibility

By Reuters
April 24, 2024
Former US president Donald Trump. — AFP/File
Former US president Donald Trump. — AFP/File

NEW YORK: The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial on Tuesday warned that Trump’s lawyer was “losing all credibility” in his arguments that the former president should not be punished for violating a gag order in the case.

Justice Juan Merchan said he would not immediately rule on prosecutors’ request to fine Trump $10,000 for violating the order, which prevents him from criticizing witnesses and others involved in the case.

At a hearing, Merchan told Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche that he had neither case law nor evidence to support his argument that Trump was not intimidating witnesses but responding to political attacks.

“You’ve presented nothing,” Merchan said. “I’ve asked you eight or nine times, show me the exact post he was responding to. You’ve not even been able to do that once.”

“I have to tell you right now, you’re losing all credibility with the court,” the judge added.

After the session, Trump repeated his claim that the gag order violated his constitutional free speech rights.

“This is a kangaroo court and the judge should recuse himself!” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.

The judge’s gag order prevents Trump from publicly criticizing witnesses, court officials and their relatives.

New York prosecutor Christopher Conroy said Trump has run afoul of the order, pointing to an April 10 Truth Social post that called porn star Stormy Daniels and Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen “sleazebags.” Both are expected to testify in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Conroy said other posts led to media coverage that prompted a juror last week to withdraw over privacy concerns.

“He knows what he’s not allowed to do and he does it anyway,” Conroy said of Trump. “His disobedience of the order is willful. It’s intentional.”

The $10,000 fine sought by Conroy would be a relatively small penalty for Trump, who has posted $266.6 million in bonds as he appeals civil judgments in two other cases.

Conroy said he was not at this point asking Merchan to send Trump to jail for up to 30 days, as New York law allows.

“The defendant seems to be angling for that,” Conroy said.

Blanche said his posts were responses to political attacks by Cohen and not related to his former lawyer’s expected testimony.

“He’s allowed to respond to political attacks,” Blanche said.

Trump is charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment shortly before the 2016 U.S. election to buy the silence of Daniels about a sexual encounter she has said they had 10 years earlier.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies such an encounter took place. His lawyers argue that Trump did not commit any crimes and only acted to protect his reputation. On Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who prosecutors say participated in a “catch and kill” scheme to suppress unflattering stories about Trump and help him get elected.

Pecker, 72, said he has known Trump since the 1980s and worked with him at one point on a magazine called “Trump Style.” He said Trump was a fixture on the National Enquirer’s front pages, and a survey found 80% of the magazine’s readers said they would back him if he ran for president.

Prosecutors displayed an email from Cohen inviting Pecker to Trump’s 2015 campaign launch. “No one deserves to be there more than you,” Cohen wrote.

He said he worked with Cohen to track rumors or negative stories about Trump.

American Media, which published the National Enquirer, admitted in 2018 that it paid $150,000 to former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal for her story about a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. American Media said it worked “in concert” with Trump’s campaign, and it never published a story.