Source: CNN

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial expanded a recently imposed gag order to include family members of the court and family members of the Manhattan district attorney, according to a late Monday ruling.

In the ruling, which comes after Trump leveled comments against Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter in recent days, the judge issued a warning that Trump’s rhetoric threatens to instill fear in those who might be involved in the proceedings for their loved ones.

“The average observer, must now, after hearing defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well,” Merchan wrote. “Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

“It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real. Admonitions are not enough, nor is reliance on self-restraint,” he said.

Earlier Monday, the Manhattan district attorney’s office had asked the judge to expand the gag order to stop the former president from attacking family members of people involved in the case.

“This Court should immediately make clear that defendant is prohibited from making or directing others to make public statements about family members of the Court, the District Attorney, and all other individuals mentioned in the Order,” prosecutors wrote in a motion to Judge Juan Merchan on Monday.

Last week, soon after Merchan issued a gag order stopping Trump from making statements about witnesses, jurors, prosecutors, court staff or the family members of prosecutors and court staff, Trump launched a series of posts on his social media platform. The gag order did not cover District Attorney Alvin Bragg or the judge or his family.

Trump said Merchan was “compromised” and he identified by name the judge’s daughter who works for a political consulting firm. Trump then cited posts on X from an account he said belonged to the daughter. A spokesman for the court said the judge’s daughter deactivated her account two years ago and the posts were not from her.

Trump has argued he has a First Amendment right to defend himself and engage in campaign speech. He criticized the expanded gag order in a post on Truth Social Tuesday morning, accusing Merchan of being corrupt and saying the proceedings against him amounted to “election interference.”

“Defendant knows what he is doing, and everyone else does too. And we all know exactly what defendant intends because he has said for decades that it is part of his life philosophy to go after his perceived opponents ‘as viciously and as violently’ as he can,” prosecutors wrote.

“But the suggestion that defendant is merely engaging in political counter-speech is an obvious fiction that this Court should emphatically reject,” prosecutors wrote. “None of defendant’s attacks in the past week consist of campaign advocacy. Instead, defendant has viciously and falsely smeared the Court and the family member for no reason other than the Court’s presiding over this criminal trial.”

Trump may appeal gag order

Trump’s lawyers opposed any expansion of the original gag order, which they said already went too far – indicating ahead of Merchan’s ruling that they might appeal the order.

“The Court should reject the People’s invitations to expand the gag order, which is already an unlawful prior restraint that improperly restricts campaign advocacy by the presumptive Republican nominee and leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in an opposition filing Monday.

Trump’s defense team had argued that the gag order as it was originally written did not apply to family members of the judge or Bragg, pointing to news reports similarly interpreting the order to say that family members like Merchan’s daughter are fair game for Trump’s public criticisms.

“Accordingly, because the gag order expressly does not apply to family members of the Court or the District Attorney, and because the challenged social media posts were not intended to materially interfere with these proceedings, President Trump did not violate the gag order and no contempt warning would be appropriate.”

In his ruling Monday, Merchan accused Trump’s attorneys of a “farcical” argument.

“Defendant, in his opposition of April 1, 2024, desperately attempts to justify and explain away his dangerous rhetoric by ‘turning the tables’ and blaming those he attacks,” Merchan wrote. “The arguments counsel makes are at best strained and at worst baseless misrepresentations which are uncorroborated and rely upon innuendo and exaggeration. Put mildly, the assortment of allegations presented as ‘facts’ and cobbled together, result in accusations that are disingenuous and not rational. To argue that the most recent attacks, which included photographs, are ‘necessary and appropriate in the current environment,’ is farcical.”

Trump’s lawyers also asked Merchan to allow them to file a recusal motion to remove the judge from the case, now just two weeks before the trial is set to begin, “based on changed circumstances and newly discovered evidence.”

Merchan denied a similar recusal motion from Trump last year.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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