New York appeals court declines to hear Trump's challenge to gag order in hush money case

Steven Hirsch

The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to hear former President Donald Trump's appeal of the gag order in the hush money case in which he was convicted last month.

The state's highest court said it was dismissing the appeal "upon the ground that no substantial constitutional question is directly involved."

That means the gag order imposed on Trump by state Judge Juan Merchan is still in effect.

Trump had argued the order, which bars him from attacking witnesses, individual prosecutors, jurors, court staff and their relatives, and the relatives of the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, presented "constitutional questions of the highest order."

Trump's lawyers contended the order restricts his "core political speech on matters of central importance at the height of his presidential campaign, where he is the leading candidate, and thus it violates the fundamental right of every American voter to hear" from him "on matters of enormous public importance." That includes his ability to speak about two key witnesses in the case, his former attorney Michael Cohen and adult film star Stormy Daniels, which his lawyers characterized as a matter of "constitutional importance."

The DA's office argued to the high court that Merchan's order did not trigger any constitutional issues because it was "narrowly tailored" and necessary given Trump's "singular and well-documented history of leveling threatening, inflammatory and denigrating remarks against trial participants." Prosecutors said his "violent rhetoric" led to to death threats against Bragg and his staffers, and "terrorized and intimidated his direct targets."

Despite Tuesday's ruling by the high court, Trump can still petition it to hear the case. He has 30 days to file such a motion, said Gary Spencer, a spokesperson for the court.

Trump first asked the appeals court to weigh in in mid-May, before he was found guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, following an unsuccessful bid to do so in a lower appeals court.

Trump repeatedly railed against the gag order throughout the trial, which lasted about a month and a half. The former president was found to have violated the order multiple times, which led to Merchan fining Trump $10,000 and threatening to put him in jail if it happened again.

In early June, Trump attorney Todd Blanche sent a letter to Merchan requesting that he terminate the gag order, arguing that “because the trial has concluded, the stated bases for the gag order no longer exist.” The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case, opposed the request by Trump’s legal team.

The jury in the case found Trump guilty on May 30 of all 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, which marked the first time a former U.S. president was convicted of a crime.

Following the conviction, Trump may have further violated the gag order by making comments about two witnesses in the case: Robert Costello, who testified for the defense, and Michael Cohen, the prosecution's star witness and Trump's former lawyer, though Trump didn't explicitly name him.

The former president is scheduled to be sentenced in the case on July 11. On June 10, he met virtually with a New York probation officer for a pre-sentencing interview.