Prosecutors seek Trump gag order in New York hush money criminal case

Prosecutors seek Trump gag order in New York hush money criminal case
Prosecutors seek Trump gag order in New York hush money criminal case

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former US president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is cruising toward the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in November. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, Feb 27 — Prosecutors have asked a judge for a gag order to restrict Donald Trump from making public comments about witnesses or exposing the identities of jurors in the former president’s New York trial involving hush money paid to a porn star, court filings made public yesterday showed.

The requests by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office noted Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency in the November 5 US election, is scheduled to go on trial in state court in Manhattan starting on March 25, one of four criminal cases against him. He has pleaded not guilty.

He is accused of falsifying business records to cover his lawyer Michael Cohen’s US$130,000 (RM621,010) payment to Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election to keep her silent about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier. He has denied any such relationship.

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Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesperson, said a gag order in the case would infringe on Trump’s right to free speech, if implemented.

“This is election interference pure and simple,” Cheung said in a statement.

Trump is cruising toward the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in November.

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Judges may impose gag orders — which restrict defendants or others involved in court cases from speaking publicly about certain aspects of legal proceedings — to try to prevent intimidation of witnesses or jurors, or to protect court staff from threats.

If approved in this case by Justice Juan Merchan, the gag order would bar Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case.

The district attorney’s office also asked that Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case — other than Bragg himself — as well as court staff members. Trump previously has called Bragg, who is a Democrat, an “animal” and a “degenerate psychopath.”

Merchan on February 15 denied Trump’s request to dismiss the charges on the grounds that the case was brought for partisan purposes and that state laws do not apply to federal elections.

The measures Bragg requested are similar to restrictions a federal judge in Washington imposed last year in Trump’s criminal case on charges involving his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden.

In a civil fraud case, a New York state judge fined Trump a total of US$15,000 for twice violating a gag order barring him from publicly talking about court staff.

Bragg’s office requested that jurors be referred to only by number in open court to shield their identities. Their names should still be disclosed to the parties in the case, but Trump should be put “on notice” that he would lose his right to access their names should he threaten their safety, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors called that request “modest,” pointing to two federal civil cases in which jurors who ordered Trump to pay the writer E. Jean Carroll nearly US$90 million were fully anonymous.

Prosecutors have said the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was part of a broader “catch-and-kill” scheme to prevent allegations that Trump had extramarital affairs from coming to light ahead of the 2016 election.

In a separate filing yesterday, prosecutors said that at the time of the payoff, Trump’s staff was concerned about his standing with female voters due to the leak of a 2005 Access Hollywood recording in which Trump made vulgar comments about women. They asked the tape be admitted as evidence at trial.

“The motivation to complete the Daniels non-disclosure agreement cannot be understood without reference to the desperation facing defendant and his campaign in the wake of the tape’s release,” prosecutors wrote.

Cohen in 2018 pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws with the payment to Daniels, which exceeded contribution limits. He spent more than a year in prison. — Reuters

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