Trump, Appearing Via Zoom About His Criminal Trial, Is Warned Not To Speak About Non-Public Evidence

The prosecution asked for this order because the former president has a penchant for attacking his detractors on social media.

AP/Elizabeth Williams
In this courtroom sketch, President Trump, left on screen, and his attorney, Todd Blanche, appear via video in Manhattan criminal court, May 23, 2023. AP/Elizabeth Williams

As President Trump fights criminal charges related to allegedly paying hush money to a former adult film performer during the 2016 presidential election, he has appeared remotely before the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, and was reminded of his obligation to be silent on certain issues. 

Judge Merchan of New York County’s supreme court reminded Mr. Trump on Tuesday that he must not disclose any non-public information during the pretrial discovery period. Judge Merchan first issued an order to that effect on May 4. 

This comes on the heels of a request from Mr. Trump that the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, articulate the charges against him in full. While the indictment accuses Mr. Trump of multiple instances of falsification of business records, those are misdemeanors unless they are committed in furtherance of a second crime. Prosecutors have cited Judge Merchan’s order as grounds for discretion.    

“I am not going to do anything … to infringe on his First Amendment rights,” the judge said earlier this month, insisting that the former president is allowed to discuss the proceedings but may not disclose any specific evidence to the public. Mr. Trump will be allowed to see most of these materials in the presence of his lawyers as the discovery phase continues. 

The prosecution asked for this order because the former president has a penchant for attacking his detractors on social media, using whatever information he can to defend himself. “Obviously, Mr Trump is different,” Judge Merchan said in granting the order. “It would be foolish to say he is not. … He is different.” 

Judge Merchan explained: “I have to apply the law. I have to apply the law to him as I see it, and in that regard, I am bending over backward and straining to allow him to advance his candidacy and speak in furtherance.” He also set a March 2024 trial date for Mr. Trump, which would fall in the thick of the presidential primary season.  

Other members of Mr. Trump’s family have used social media in the past to spread narratives about the supposed illegitimacy of the criminal case. Shortly after his father’s indictment, Donald Trump Jr. shared a Breitbart article alleging that the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, had worked for the Biden campaign in 2020. 

Although she never officially worked for the campaign, her consulting firm, Authentic Campaigns, did list the Biden-Harris campaign as a client. 

“Yet another connection in this hand picked democrat show trial,” the younger Mr. Trump wrote in a tweet that includes a photograph of Ms. Merchan and her father. 

After announcing he would likely be arrested in mid-March, the elder Mr. Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to call on his supporters to protest on his behalf. Mr. Trump told his followers: “Save America! Protest, Protest, Protest!” He also warned of “potential death & destruction” on the eve of his first court appearance. 

The ongoing criminal case against Mr. Trump is just one of many investigations that threatens to derail his White House ambitions. On May 9, he was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation in the civil lawsuit brought by author E. Jean Carroll, who claimed he raped her in the mid-1990s. 

A district attorney in Georgia, Fani Willis, has signaled she could indict him as soon as this summer as part of her investigation into whether he broke the law in asking Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes for him to win the Peachtree State’s electoral votes in 2020.

Two potentially more serious federal investigations are also ongoing. Special Counsel Jack Smith is looking into whether Mr. Trump broke the law in stashing classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and Mr. Smith is also charged with investigating the former president’s possible role in fomenting violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. 


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