Prosecutors ask judge to fine Trump US$10,000 for violating hush money trial gag order

Prosecutors ask judge to fine Trump US$10,000 for violating hush money trial gag order
Prosecutors ask judge to fine Trump US$10,000 for violating hush money trial gag order

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Former US President Donald Trump, with lawyer Todd Blanche, attends his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments linked to extramarital affairs, at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on April 23, 2024. — Pool via Reuters pic

NEW YORK, April 23 — Prosecutors asked the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial today to fine the former US president US$10,000 (RM4,780) for violating a gag order that prevents him from criticising witnesses and others involved in the case.

As Trump watched from the defence table, New York prosecutor Christopher Conroy cited posts from the former president’s Truth Social platform that he said violated Justice Juan Merchan’s gag order.

“Defendant has violated this order repeatedly and hasn’t stopped,” Conroy told Merchan. “The court should now hold him in contempt.”

Conroy pointed to an April 10 post that called porn star Stormy Daniels and his former lawyer Michael Cohen “sleazebags.” Both are expected to testify in the first criminal trial of a former US president. Conroy said other posts led to media coverage that prompted a juror last week to withdraw over privacy concerns.

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“He knows what he’s not allowed to do and he does it anyway,” Conroy said of Trump. “His disobedience of the order is wilful. It’s intentional.”

The US$10,000 fine sought by Conroy would be a relatively small penalty for Trump, who has posted US$266.6 million in bonds as he appeals civil judgments in two other cases.

New York law permits Merchan to send Trump to jail for up to 30 days for contempt of court, but Conroy said he was not asking Merchan for imprisonment at this point.

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“The defendant seems to be angling for that,” Conroy said.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said his posts were responses to political attacks by Cohen and not related to his former lawyer’s expected testimony.

“He’s allowed to respond to political attacks,” Blanche said.

Merchan appeared sceptical of that argument and pressed Blanche to specify the attacks to which he was responding.

“I keep asking you over and over again for specific examples, and I’m not getting an answer,” the judge said.

The gag order prevents Trump from publicly criticising witnesses, court officials and their relatives. Trump has said it is a violation of his constitutional free speech rights.

Trump was charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with falsifying business records to cover up a US$130,000 payment shortly before the 2016 US election to buy the silence of Daniels about a sexual encounter she has said they had in 2006. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denies such an encounter took place.

Prosecutors have said it was part of a wider conspiracy to hide unflattering information from voters at a time when he was facing multiple accusations of sexual misbehaviour. Trump went on to win the 2016 election narrowly.

“It was election fraud, pure and simple,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said on Monday.

In his opening statement on Monday, defence lawyer Todd Blanche said Trump did not commit any crimes.

“There’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy,” Blanche told jurors on Monday.

Blanche said Trump acted to protect his family and his reputation and accused Daniels of trying to profit from a false accusation that they had sex.

Today, jurors are expected to hear more testimony starting at 11am (11pm in Malaysian time) from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who prosecutors say participated in a “catch and kill” scheme to suppress unflattering stories about Trump and help him get elected.

Pecker, 72, testified on Monday that his company paid for stories - an unusual practice in journalism.

American Media, which published the National Enquirer, admitted in 2018 that it paid US$150,000 to former Playboy magazine model Karen McDougal for her story about a months-long affair with Trump in 2006 and 2007. American Media said it worked “in concert” with Trump’s campaign, and it never published a story.

The tabloid reached a similar deal to pay US$30,000 to a doorman who was seeking to sell a story about Trump allegedly fathering a child out of wedlock, which turned out to be false, according to prosecutors.

Trump has said the payments were personal and did not violate election law. He has also denied an affair with McDougal.

The case may be the only one of the Republican Trump’s four criminal prosecutions to go to trial before his Nov. 5 election rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden.

A guilty verdict would not bar Trump from taking office but it could hurt his candidacy. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that half of independent voters and one in four Republicans say they would not vote for Trump if he is convicted of a crime. — Reuters

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