Trump trial judge to hold gag order hearing before Stormy Daniels’ ex-lawyer is back on the stand

Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumes Thursday in a Manhattan courtroom with prosecutors set to argue that the judge overseeing the trial should find the former president in criminal contempt — again — for violating a gag order.

The hearing will focus on remarks Trump made last week to reporters in the courthouse hallway and in interviews with two news outlets. In his remarks, Trump referred to his former lawyer Michael Cohen — a key figure and probable witness in the trial — as “a convicted liar.” Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Trump last week also complained that the jury of his peers is overwhelmingly Democratic. Jurors weren’t asked about their party affiliations during the selection process.

State Judge Juan Merchan this week held Trump in contempt for nine violations of his April 1 order prohibiting criticism of witnesses and jurors. The violations all pertained to posts on Trump’s social media account and his campaign website. Merchan fined Trump $9,000 — the maximum allowed by law — and warned that any future violations could result in jail time.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche has defended Trump’s online commentary, saying at a hearing last week that he’d been responding to “political” attacks against him. Trump has claimed the gag order is “unconstitutional” because he’s the presumptive Republican nominee for president and should be able to speak his mind.

The narrowly tailored gag order bars 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” and “public statements about any prospective juror or any juror.”

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office hasn’t requested a particular punishment for what it argues are further violations of the gag order. It said in a court filing that Trump’s “decision to again specifically target individuals and the proceeding which this Court’s order protects is a deliberate flouting of this Court’s directives that warrants sanctions.”

The hearing Thursday morning is expected to last 30 minutes. It will be followed by attorney Keith Davidson’s return to the witness stand.

Davidson represented Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had affairs with Trump in 2006 and were paid to keep quiet about those claims in 2016 when Trump was running for president. Trump has denied their claims.

The National Enquirer’s parent company paid McDougal, a former Playboy model, $150,000 as part of what prosecutors described as a “catch and kill” scheme to suppress negative stories and benefit Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen, Trump’s lawyer at the time, paid Daniels, an adult film star, $130,000 in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Trump eventually repaid Cohen in payments that prosecutors say were falsely recorded in his company’s records as legal payments. Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Davidson said on the stand Tuesday that he and Daniels nearly walked away from the deal after Cohen missed the deadline to pay. “I thought he was trying to kick the can down the road until after the election,” Davidson said.

He’s expected to get into the details of the payment and its aftermath before Trump’s attorneys cross-examine him.

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