Judge Expands Gag Order in Trump’s Hush-Money Trial, Protects Families from Rancorous Attacks

NEW YORK (AP) — The judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s hush-money criminal trial has taken stricter action against him after he made false claims about the judge’s daughter on social media. Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan expanded the existing gag order, which had prohibited public statements about witnesses and jurors, to include Trump’s family as well. The judge stated that such attacks on family members serve no legitimate purpose and only inject fear into participants in the trial.

Violating the expanded gag order could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, facing fines, or even imprisonment. Both Trump’s lawyer and the district attorney’s office declined comment on the matter.

The hush-money case against Trump is one of four criminal cases he is currently facing. The charges revolve around allegations that Trump falsified business records by categorizing payments to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, as legal fees when they were instead used to cover up negative stories about him during the 2016 campaign. This includes the $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn actor Stormy Daniels on Trump’s behalf. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records last April, denying any sexual encounter with Daniels and claiming the payments were legitimate legal expenses.

The controversy arose when Trump, on his Truth Social platform, baselessly suggested that the judge’s rulings were influenced by his daughter’s political consulting interests. Trump also wrongly alleged that she had posted a photo of him behind bars. These posts prompted prosecutors to seek clarification and confirmation of the extent of the gag order, emphasizing the need to protect the judge’s family and other individuals connected to the case.

In response, Trump’s lawyers argued against the gag order and its expansion, citing concerns about restricting Trump’s free speech rights while he campaigns for president and battles criminal charges. They also announced plans to request the judge’s recusal based on “changed circumstances and newly discovered evidence.” However, the judge had previously refused their demands to step aside, reaffirming his ability to be fair and impartial.

The original gag order had barred Trump from making or directing public statements about jurors, potential witnesses, or court staff in the hush-money trial. The expanded order now also prohibits comments about the judge’s and district attorney’s families. Additionally, the judge warned that Trump could forfeit his right to see the names of jurors if his conduct threatens their safety or integrity.

The ongoing trial has now become even more intense with the tensions between Trump and the judge, who finds Trump’s behavior to be a real threat to the integrity of the proceedings. As the trial date approaches, it remains to be seen how these developments will impact the trial’s outcome.

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