Trump’s latest legal headache: his own loudmouth
NEW YORK — Donald Trump’s next big legal test is whether the famously loudmouthed former president can keep his mouth shut.
In recent days, he has subjected himself to further legal trouble by repeatedly vilifying writer E. Jean Carroll even after a jury found he defamed her. And in his criminal case involving silent money payments to a porn star, Trump is under a judge’s strict order to avoid speaking publicly about certain evidence.
If he violates this order, he could be held in contempt.
“He was warned that if he behaved as usual, it could result in a violation,” Catherine A. Christian, a former Manhattan prosecutor, said of a Tuesday court appearance in which the judge spoke to Trump by videoconference and admonished not to break the disclosure restrictions the judge imposed in the case.
Trump has long lashed out at judges, plaintiffs, prosecutors and other courtroom opponents, real or perceived. In 2016, Trump said a judge overseeing a fraud case against the now defunct Trump University was a “hater” and accused him of being unfair to Trump because the judge was “Mexican.” . (The judge, Gonzalo Curiel, is an Indiana-born U.S. citizen of Mexican ancestry.)
Trump has repeatedly criticized Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated his dealings with Russia, calling him a “never Trumper” who was “conflicted.”
And Trump recently called three black prosecutors — New York Attorney General Tish James, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — “racists.” James has an ongoing civil lawsuit against Trump and his company. Willis investigates Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. Bragg brought criminal charges against Trump in the silent money case.
Now, Trump’s outbursts could catch up with him, leading to financial sanctions and the possibility of other sanctions.
Earlier this month, a federal jury found that Trump sexually abused and defamed Carroll, ordering him to pay him $5 million in damages after he called it a “hoax” that he attacked in a luxury department store in the mid-1990s.
The day after the jury verdict, Trump repeated statements similar to those at the heart of the lawsuit he had just lost, saying during an appearance on CNN that Carroll’s story was a “fake,” a “made up story.” ” perpetuated by a “punch”. This week, Carroll amended a separate defamation lawsuit against Trump. That lawsuit originally centered on the 2019 remarks, but will now also include his CNN comments.
“Trump used a nationwide platform to belittle and mock Carroll. He pushed a laughing audience as he shed light on his violent sexual assault, called Carroll’s names, hinted that Carroll was asking to be assaulted and overturned the jury verdict vindicating Carroll,” his amended lawsuit reads.
Trump’s comments to CNN warrant “an award of very substantial punitive damages” to “deter him from engaging in further libel,” Carroll’s attorneys wrote Monday.
But Trump was again undeterred. On Tuesday morning, he lashed out at Carroll again, using nearly identical language on social media to claim he didn’t know her, that he “wouldn’t want to know or touch her” and that she has made his story. He also added that U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan did not give him a fair trial. “Time will prove that he is very partisan and very unfair,” Trump wrote.
Trump’s attorneys struggled to control their client’s comment. During the Carroll trial that ended earlier this month, Kaplan chastised the former president for a social media post in which he called the lawsuit a “made-up scam”, with the judge telling the Trump attorney Joe Tacopina that his client was “falsifying a new source of potential liability.
Tacopina seemed to recognize the difficulty of retaining the former president. “I’ll do my best, your honor,” Tacopina told Kaplan. “That’s all I can say.”
On Tuesday, Trump appeared by video in Manhattan Criminal Court to hear directly from another judge: Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the Hush Money case. Merchan – who reportedly received threats last month after Trump publicly called him a “highly partisan judge” – issued a protective order on May 8 limiting how Trump can use and review evidence in the case, which stems from his alleged role in a scheme to falsify payment records that covered up a potential sex scandal during the 2016 presidential campaign.
On four video screens placed around the courtroom, Trump appeared seated in front of two American flags and next to his lawyer Todd Blanche. Merchan asked Blanche if her client understood the requirements of the order and the possible penalties for failure to comply, saying they included contempt of court.
“Because President Trump is a candidate for President of the United States … he is very concerned that his First Amendment rights will be violated by this protective order,” Blanche told the judge. “I explained to him that it was not your honor’s intention…and that it is not a gag order.”
Merchan agreed that he was not seeking to impose a gag order, a measure that would require Trump to refrain from making public comments on the case. “I have no intention of hindering his ability to campaign for President of the United States,” Judge said.
“He’s free to do anything that doesn’t violate the specific terms of the protective order,” Merchan added. The order prevents Trump or anyone else reviewing evidence provided by prosecutors from sharing it, including on social media. It also limits Trump to reviewing certain evidence in the presence of his attorneys and prohibits him from photographing or copying it. And it prevents the disclosure of the names of certain staff members of the district attorney’s office to the defense until the selection of the jury.
Christian, the former Manhattan prosecutor, said the purpose of the court appearance was to “drive in the nail with a hammer — to make sure there is no doubt, so that Mr. Trump can’t say, ‘Well, my lawyers never told me about it. ‘”
The protective order specifically prohibits sharing of any evidence and would prevent Trump, for example, from ‘reading the grand jury testimony of Michael Cohen’ at one of his rallies, Christian added, referring to the former attorney. Trump staff who will likely be a key witness against him. (Christian is not involved in the silent money case.)
Trump’s expression was frozen in a scowl as he listened to Merchan. When the judge set the trial date for March 25, 2024 and asked Trump and the lawyers not to make any undertakings that might conflict with the date, Trump bowed his head and shook it. And he only said three words publicly during the hearing: When Merchan asked if he had a copy of the protective order, he replied, “Yes, I have.”
But he was not silent for long. About an hour after the hearing, he took to his social media site, expressing his displeasure that the judge scheduled the trial “right in the middle of the primary season.”
“It’s called ELECTORAL INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our country before!!!”