Donald Trump faces gag order in Stormy Daniels hush money criminal case

  • 27/03/2024

Donald Trump on Tuesday (local time) was hit with a judge's gag order sought by prosecutors in his upcoming criminal trial involving hush money paid to a porn star, restricting him from publicly commenting about witnesses and court staff.

Ahead of the former US president's trial scheduled to begin on April 15 in the New York state court, Justice Juan Merchan granted a request for the order made last month by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office.

Merchan separately ruled on March 7 that jurors were to remain anonymous except to Trump, his lawyers, prosecutors and a handful of others, after prosecutors highlighted Trump's history of publicly deriding trial jurors and grand jurors.

The prosecution sought an order blocking Trump from "making or directing others to make" statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case, and from commenting on court staff and prosecutors other than Bragg himself.

Silencing Trump was necessary because of his "longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him," prosecutors said.

It is one of four criminal cases confronting Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 5 US election. It could be the only one of them to reach trial before the election. He has pleaded not guilty in all the cases and has portrayed them as politically motivated.

Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche declined to comment on the gag order. His lawyers previously argued that such an order would violate his right to free speech under the US Constitution's First Amendment, leaving him defenseless against attacks by political opponents over the case.

Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements to his former lawyer Michael Cohen for a US$130,000 (NZ$216,470) payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with Trump a decade earlier.

He has denied having the encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The gag order was similar to restrictions a federal judge imposed last year in a criminal case over Trump's efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. In a separate civil fraud case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, another state judge fined Trump $15,000 ($24,980) last year for twice violating a gag order against publicly commenting about court staff.

Trump also faces state criminal charges in Georgia over his efforts to reverse his 2020 loss to Biden in the state, and federal criminal charges in Florida over his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving the White House in 2021.

Trump is appealing a $454.2 million ($755.9 million) judgment in the civil fraud case for misstating the values of his family real estate company's properties to dupe lenders. On March 25, a mid-level state appeals court paused that judgment as long as Trump posts a smaller $175 million ($291.4 million) bond within 10 days.