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Judge told Trump should be fined for violating gag order

Prosecutors asked the judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial on Tuesday to fine the former US president $10,000 for violating a gag order that prevents him from criticising witnesses and others involved in the case.

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

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

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

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

Judge Merchan could opt to fine Mr Trump $1,000 for each of those violations, as prosecutors have requested.

Prosecutors have also asked the judge to remind Mr Trump he may face more severe consequences if he keeps violating the order. The law permits the judge to send Mr Trump to jail for up to 30 days in what would be a dramatic twist to the first criminal trial of a former US president.

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

Doanld Trump was charged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg with falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment shortly before the 2016 US election to buy the silence of Ms Daniels about a sexual encounter she has said they had in 2006. Mr 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 misbehavior.

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

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

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

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

On Tuesday, jurors are expected to hear more testimony starting from former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who prosecutors say participated in a “catch and kill” scheme to suppress unflattering stories about Mr Trump and help him get elected.

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

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

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

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

A guilty verdict would not bar Mr 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 Donald Trump if he is convicted of a crime.

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