Trump Pushes To Have Hush-Money Gag Order Lifted So He Can Respond to Insults From Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen at First Debate

The June 27th debate is fast approaching, and the odds of Trump getting the gag order lifted by then seem slim.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
President Trump arrives at Trump Tower on May 30, 2024, at New York City after being convicted of 34 felonies in state court. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

President Trump’s attorneys in the hush-money case pushed again for the lifting of the the gag order, which the presiding judge, Juan Merchan, imposed on Trump before the criminal trial began, in a motion filed on Wednesday. 

The first presidential debate, on June 27 is approaching. There, Trump is hoping to respond forcefully to the calumny from two of his enemies, the porn star Stormy Daniels and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who are both protected by the gag order. He also wants to denounce what he claims is Judge Merchan’s bias due to the work of his daughter, who is also protected. 

The 23-page long motion seeking dismissal of the gag order raises the same arguments the attorneys made in a previous letter sent to the judge last Tuesday. Now that the trial is concluded, the gag order, they wrote, serves no purpose and unnecessarily restricts Trump’s ability to defend himself against attacks from his opponents. But this time, the attorneys went even further, calling the gag order a “political sword” used against their client.        

“Trump’s opponents and adversaries are using the Gag Order as a political sword to attack President Trump with reference to this case, on the understanding that his ability to mount a detailed response is severely restricted by the Gag Order,” defense attorneys Todd Blanche and Emil Bove wrote.

Judge Merchan issued the much-contested gag order against Trump on March 26, a few weeks before the criminal trial began, prohibiting him from making public comments about witnesses, jurors, court staff, counsel, and their family members, after the Manhattan district attorney’s office had asked for protection of the participants. Evidence submitted by the prosecution showed that Trump supporters were making violent threats against participants, who Trump had publicly criticized. On April 1, the judge extended the order to include his own family members, and those of the district attorney, after Trump had continuously attacked the judge’s adult daughter, Loren Merchan, a Democrat, who has done campaign work for some of Trump’s most committed foes such as Vice President Harris and Congressman Adam Schiff.

merchan
Judge Juan Merchan in his chambers at New York, March 14, 2024. AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Loren Merchan, Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter, has worked as a Democratic operative. Facebook

Two key witnesses in the case, Cohen and Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, are speaking publicly, and very negatively, about Trump, the attorneys argued, while their client cannot comment on what they say. 

As an example, the attorneys cited a videotaped interview Ms. Clifford gave to the Daily Mirror on Sunday, June 2. In the interview, Ms. Clifford said that Trump’s third wife, Melania, should leave her husband. 

“Should she leave him?” The Mirror’s U.S. editor, Christopher Bucktin, asked Ms. Clifford, referring to Melania Trump and the former president. 

“Yeah,” Ms. Clifford answered. 

The porn star Stormy Daniels has given her first interview since President Trump’s conviction, during which she advocated for him to be incarcerated. The Daily Mirror

“On the grounds of?” Mr. Bucktin pressed. 

“That he is a convicted felon, that he’s proven to be abusive… he was found liable for assault,” Ms. Clifford continued, in a reference to the civil case brought last year by the writer E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her inside a dressing room on the lingerie floor of the upscale Manhattan department store, Bergdorf Goodman, some time in the mid 1990s. Trump was found liable for sexual assault (but not rape), which he denies.          

Ms. Clifford also added that she hoped Ms. Trump has a “hot pool boy locked up in the garage.” It’s these kind of statements that Trump cannot directly answer, because he is not permitted to refer to Ms. Clifford’s name. 

Furthermore, Trump’s attorneys wrote that the gag order will be especially harmful to the former president when he faces his opponent, President Biden, in their first presidential debate on June 27 at CNN’s studios at Atlanta, Georgia, in a  critical battleground state Mr. Trump very narrowly lost in 2020.

“On May 31, following carefully scripted remarks about the verdict at a press conference, President Biden offered a disturbing grin to the gathered media cameras when asked whether President Trump is his ‘political prisoner,'” Mr. Blanche and Mr. Bove argued. 

President Biden delivers remarks on the verdict in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial and on the Middle East, from the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, May 31, 2024, at Washington. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

“Such an unlawful restraint would be egregious here, where District Attorney Bragg is seeking to help President Biden and his political associates by asking the Court to silence President Trump during and after the upcoming presidential debate,” the filing said. “Worse still, the District Attorney is pursuing that strategy in a case he claims, falsely, is about influencing the 2016 election by allegedly withholding information from voters. The irony is palpable.”

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, charged Trump with falsification of business records in a scheme to interfere with the 2016 election. At the heart of the case was a $130,000 hush-money payment Cohen made to Ms. Clifford in 2016 to buy her silence about her claim that she had a single sexual encounter with Trump at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe in 2006. The prosecution accused Trump of directing Cohen to wire the money to Ms. Clifford and then disguising his reimbursement to Cohen as a legal fee. Trump was found guilty on 34 felony counts on May 30, making him the first former president in the history of America with a felony conviction.

Trump has repeatedly said the case is “rigged” and a “political witch hunt” orchestrated by the White House to stop him from winning back the presidency in 2024. He denies the sexual rendezvous with Ms. Clifford and all the charged crimes, and said he will appeal.  

This week, a top Department of Justice official said in another court filing that an extensive search of Justice Department records did not find any communication between Mr. Bragg’s office and senior DOJ officials related to the Trump case. 

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg leaves the podium after a news conference following the conviction of President Trump in his hush money trial on May 30, 2024 at New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

“The Department does not generally make extensive efforts to rebut conspiratorial speculation, including to avoid the risk of lending it credibility,” assistant attorney general Carlos Uriarte said in the letter to the House Judiciary Committee. “However, consistent with the Attorney General’s commitment to transparency, the Department has taken extraordinary steps to confirm what was already clear: there is no basis for these false claims.”

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, has been holding regular hearings in an effort to prove ties between the Justice Department and the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Mr. Jordan has now asked that Mr. Bragg testify before Congress. 

Meanwhile, it does not seem likely that the gag order issue will be resolved in time for the debate. The prosecution answered Trump’s previous letter on the matter last week, stating that the gag order was issued with the “obligation to prevent actual harm to the integrity of the proceedings” and that these proceedings are not concluded until the sentencing takes place on July 11. 

Prosecutors asked the judge to keep the same schedule for this gag order motion as for all other post-trial motions, with the defense filing theirs by June 13, and the prosecution answering by June 27. In a response that was not made public but reported by various media outlets, the judge was said to have sided with the prosecution. 

President Trump appears in court with his attorneys Todd Blanche (L) and Emil Bove during his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 14, 2024 at New York City. Justin Lane – Pool/Getty Images

That means Trump will most likely head into the presidential debate with the gag order in place. Should he choose to violate it on the debate stage, Judge Merchan could order him incarcerated just weeks before the Republican National Convention at Milwaukee.

Both sides are also expected to soon file their sentencing recommendations. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 11, a few days before the RNC. Under New York law, the class “E” felonies Trump faces are punishable by up to four years in prison per offense and-or a fine of up to $5,000. As Trump has been found guilty on all 34 counts, meaning each falsified record, which included invoices, ledger entries and checks, the highest, and most unlikely outcome would be $170,000 in fines and 136 years in prison. More moderate punishments, such as supervised parole or house arrest, are also on the table. Mr. Bragg has been tight lipped about whether he will ask for Trump to be sentenced to prison.

Legal scholars say a typical defendant convicted of these offenses would not face prison. But Trump is no ordinary defendant and everything about this case is extraordinary.  Trump has also shown no remorse, and during the trial made various harsh comments about Ms. Clifford and Cohen, without using their names, which could be considered violations of the gag order. This conduct could, in the eyes of the judge, be grounds for sentence enhancement.


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