Judge says gag order won’t prevent Trump from testifying in criminal case

Judge says gag order won’t prevent Trump from testifying in criminal case
Judge says gag order won’t prevent Trump from testifying in criminal case

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump attends his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York May, 3, 2024. — Doug Mills/Pool/Reuters pic

NEW YORK, May 3 — The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial said today that a gag order preventing him from commenting about witnesses and jurors does not bar him from testifying in court on his own behalf.

“I want to stress to Mr. Trump: you have an absolute right to testify at trial,” Justice Juan Merchan said to start the 11th day in Trump’s hush money trial.

Trump asserted after yesterday’s session that the gag order would prevent him from testifying. He said today that was not actually the case. “It won’t stop me from testifying,” he told reporters before entering the courtroom.


Trump said his legal team would try to overturn the gag order, which bars him from making public comments about jurors, witnesses, and families of the judge and prosecutors if those statements are meant to interfere with the case.

Merchan fined Trump US$9,000 (RM42,660) on Tuesday for violating the order and signalled yesterday he may impose more fines for what prosecutors say are further violations. Merchan has said Trump could be jailed if he does not change his ways.

The judge declined a request yesterday by Trump’s legal team to vet commentary about the trial before Trump posts it online.


“When in doubt, steer clear,” Merchan said, prompting Trump to shake his head and sigh.

Last night, Trump reposted a video on social media that mentions Merchan’s daughter has done work for Democratic politicians, but did not name her, potentially risking another gag-order violation. Trump argues this presents a conflict of interest for the judge and has failed in a bid to remove him from the case.

Witnesses today were expected to offer more details of a hush money payment to a porn star that prevented voters in the 2016 election from learning about a sexual encounter she alleged to have had with the then-Republican presidential candidate.

The 12 jurors and six alternates hearing the first criminal trial of a former US president have yet to hear from the main players in the case.

These include Stormy Daniels, the porn star who got US$130,000 to keep quiet about the alleged sexual liaison, and Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged the payment in the weeks before Trump’s 2016 victory.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records to cover up the payment to Daniels and denies having had a sexual encounter with her. It was unclear whether Daniels or Cohen would take the witness stand today.

Prosecutors are not saying who will testify in advance out of concern the witnesses will be targeted by Trump, who owns his own social media network and speaks regularly to enthusiastic crowds as he mounts a 2024 White House comeback bid.

Jurors so far have heard from lawyer Keith Davidson, who testified that he arranged the payment with Cohen. Under questioning from Trump’s defence team, he acknowledged pursuing similar cash-for-dirt deals with other high-profile people.

The defence argues the hush money payment was made to spare Trump’s family embarrassment, not to protect his presidential campaign.

The jury has also heard former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testify that he agreed to keep an eye out for damaging stories on Trump’s behalf. The tabloid paid US$150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an affair with Trump, but did not publish it, according to evidence presented at trial. Trump denies that affair as well.

Trump says the case is an attempt by Democrats to undercut his chances of defeating Democratic President Joe Biden in the coming November 5 presidential election.

The case features sordid allegations of adultery and secret payoffs, but it is widely seen as less consequential than three other criminal prosecutions Trump faces. The others charge him with trying to overturn his 2020 presidential defeat and mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all of those also.

Still, a guilty verdict could hurt Trump’s presidential bid, Reuters/Ipsos polling has found. — Reuters

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