Trump may have violated the hush money gag order while ripping his guilty verdict

by Admin
Trump may have violated the hush money gag order while ripping his guilty verdict

Donald Trump discussed two witnesses in the criminal case against him Friday while complaining about his conviction, comments that could violate the judge’s gag order against him.

Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Trump’s commentary on the witnesses. Judge Juan Merchan’s April order barred Trump from “making or directing others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding.”

Trump mentioned Robert Costello, a witness who testified on Trump’s behalf, by name during his remarks at Trump Tower, and also went on at length about his former attorney Michael Cohen, a key witness whose name he did not use but was clearly the person he was referring to.

Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower (Julia Nikhinson / AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks at Trump Tower (Julia Nikhinson / AP)

“This was a highly qualified lawyer. Now I’m not allowed to use his name because of the gag order, but you know he’s a sleazebag. Everybody knows that. Took me a while to find out,” Trump said, also pushing back on Cohen’s description of himself as a “fixer.” “He did work, but he wasn’t a fixer. He was a lawyer. You know they like to use the word fixer. He wasn’t a fixer. He was a lawyer at the time,” Trump said.

Trump praised Costello, an attorney who was in talks to represent Cohen in 2018 and has since become a fierce Cohen critic, as a “fine man” who was mistreated by the judge when he testified.

Merchan reprimanded Costello, a veteran New York defense lawyer, outside the presence of the jury for being disrespectful on the stand, including visibly and audibly reacting to the prosecution’s objections and Merchan’s rulings. “As a witness in my courtroom, if you don’t like my rulings, you don’t say, ‘Jeez,’” Merchan told Costello. “You don’t give me side eye, and you don’t roll your eyes.” He warned him that if the behavior continued, he could be booted from the stand and have his testimony stricken from the record.

Trump also appeared to make an oblique reference to Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 and whom Cohen paid $130,000 in hush money to weeks before the 2016 election. Trump made a reference to the DA calling “salacious” people to the stand. “By the way, nothing ever happened. There was no anything,” Trump said, appearing to refer to Daniels’ claim.

Trump referred to the judge — who’s not covered by the gag order — as a “devil” and a “tyrant.”

Merchan fined Trump a total of $10,000 for repeated violations of the order barring him from discussing witnesses, jurors, court staff and individual prosecutors during the trial, and warned future violations could potentially land him in jail.

“Mr. Trump, it’s important to understand that the last thing I want to do is to put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president, as well,” Merchan said. The judge said that Trump’s “continued willful violations of this court’s orders threaten the administration of justice and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue.”

Whether the judge’s position will soften now that the testimony has concluded is unclear. One of the reasons he said he was issuing the gag order was concern Trump’s remarks could influence witnesses, which is no longer an issue. The judge had also said during the trial he might consider lifting the order in relation to Cohen because Cohen had been criticizing Trump publicly during the trial. Cohen stopped doing so after the judge’s warning but sat for an interview with MSNBC on Thursday night after the verdict.

Cohen praised the jury for finding Trump guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records. “It’s accountability. It’s exactly what America needs right now,” Cohen said. Trump is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11.

Asked to respond to Trump’s remarks, Al Baker, a spokesman for the state court system, said, “The order is part of the court record that has been made publicly available and it speaks for itself.”

Trump made clear in his remarks Friday that he believes the gag order is still in effect, despite testimony being concluded. “I’m under a gag order, nasty gag order,” he said at one point, adding  “I’m the leading person for president and I’m under a gag order.”

The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

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