Judge threatens Trump jail for contempt

Justice Juan Merchan says fine may not be enough to serve as a deterrent for wealthy businessman-turned-politician.

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial fined the former U.S. president $9,000 for contempt of court on Tuesday and said he would consider jailing him if he continued to violate a gag order, Reuters reported.
In a written order, Justice Juan Merchan said the fine may not be enough to serve as a deterrent for the wealthy businessman-turned-politician and lamented he did not have the authority to impose a higher penalty. 
“Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote.
Merchan had imposed the gag order to prevent Trump from criticizing witnesses and others involved in the case.
The judge fined Trump $1,000 for each of nine online statements that he said violated his order not to criticize witnesses or other participants in the trial. Prosecutors had flagged 10 posts as possible violations.
The posts, made between April 10 and April 17, included an article calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “serial liar.” Cohen is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.
Another post quoted a Fox News pundit who claimed “undercover liberal activists” were trying to sneak onto the jury. Merchan rejected Trump’s argument that he could not be held liable for “reposts” of material he did not write himself.
Merchan will consider whether to impose further penalties for other statements at a hearing on Thursday. The judge also ordered Trump to remove the statements from his Truth Social account and his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT).
When asked by reporters to comment on the fine during a break, Trump did not respond.
Trump has argued that the gag order violates his free speech rights, and his lawyer Todd Blanche told Merchan last week that the statements at issue were responses to political attacks.
Merchan noted that Blanche was unable to provide any evidence that the expected witnesses had attacked Trump before he insulted them.
The $9,000 fine, due by Friday, is a relatively small penalty for Trump, who has already posted $266.6 million in bonds as he appeals civil judgments in two other cases.
Imprisonment, however, would be an unprecedented twist in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.
If that happened, it is unclear whether Trump would be sent to New York City’s jail on Rikers Island or whether security concerns would require more lenient treatment, such as home confinement in his Trump Tower triplex. As a former president, he remains under Secret Service protection.
Trump, the Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election is charged with falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006.
Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied having sex with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
The trial so far has featured testimony from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who told jurors he used his supermarket tabloid to suppress negative stories about Trump ahead of the 2016 election.
The paper, for example, paid for former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged affair with Trump but did not publish it, a tabloid practice known as “catch and kill.”
Lawyer Keith Davidson, who represented McDougal, testified on Tuesday that he understood he would be helping Trump’s campaign by selling her story to the Enquirer, rather than other media outlets.
Trump is required to attend the trial and has said he could instead be campaigning ahead of his rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.
The criminal case is one of four pending against Trump, but could be the only one to go to trial and result in a verdict before the election.

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