Judge lifts parts of Trump gag order ahead of sentencing in New York criminal case

Jane Rosenberg

The judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial has lifted portions of the gag order restricting what the former president can say about witnesses in the trial, such as Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, two days before Trump will square off against President Joe Biden at the CNN Presidential Debate.

Trump, however, cannot discuss any prosecutor, court staffer or their family members, according to a court order on Tuesday from Judge Juan Merchan that rolls back parts of the gag order imposed before the trial began. That aspect of the gag order remains in effect at least until his sentencing, which is set for July 11.

The new order Tuesday also lifts the bar on public statements about jurors but notes disclosure of any personally identifying information of any juror is still prohibited.

Merchan wrote in his decision lifting parts of the gag order Tuesday that the “circumstances have now changed” following Trump’s conviction last month on 34 counts of falsifying business records.

The judge’s decision comes two days before Trump’s debate with Biden, where Trump’s conviction is sure to be raised. The former president will now be able to discuss the witnesses who testified against him as well as the makeup of the Democratic-leaning jury pool in Manhattan.

Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement that Merchan’s order “leaves in place portions of the unconstitutional gag order” and that Trump plans to appeal the ruling.

“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. “President Trump and his legal team will immediately challenge today’s unconstitutional order.”

Last week, New York’s highest court declined to hear Trump’s appeal on the gag order “upon the ground that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved.”

Trump was held in contempt 10 times during the trial for violating Merchan’s gag order after he made statements about Cohen and Daniels and complained about the jury pool. The judge fined Trump $10,000 – $1,000 for each violation – and threatened him with imprisonment if additional violations occurred.

Trump repeatedly complained about the gag order throughout the seven-week trial, arguing that witnesses, including Cohen, were taking advantage of the gag order to attack him when he couldn’t respond.

During the trial, Merchan said he could not legally restrict Cohen’s public statements but he expressed consternation over what the former Trump fixer and lawyer was saying about the case. At one point, Merchan told prosecutors to urge Cohen not to make public statements about the trial.

In a statement to CNN, Cohen said Tuesday: “For the past six years, Donald and acolytes have been making constant negative statements about me. Donald’s failed strategy of discrediting me so that he can avoid accountability didn’t work then and won’t work now.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

In his order, Merchan wrote that his gag order provisions “were narrowly tailored to address the significant concerns regarding the Defendant’s extrajudicial speech,” while noting that appeals courts have upheld the restrictions he placed on Trump during the trial.

The judge acknowledged that he was reluctant to lift the gag order pertaining to the jurors, writing, “there is ample evidence to justify continued concern for the jurors.”

Merchan wrote it was his “strong preference to extend those protections” to jurors, but he said he could not legally do so.

As for the remaining protections for prosecutors, court staffers and their families, Merchan says they must feel safe to do their jobs ahead of sentencing.

“Until sentence is imposed,” Merchan wrote, those covered by that part of his gag order “must continue to perform their lawful duties free from threats, intimidation, harassment, and harm.”

Last week, Manhattan prosecutors urged Merchan to keep in place the gag order preventing Trump from making statements about jurors, prosecutors and their family members, arguing threats against prosecutors have increased since the start of the trial.

In the filing, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said it did not oppose lifting the portion of the gag order that blocked Trump from making statements about witnesses.

This story has been updated with additional reporting and reaction.

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