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Trump tests limits of gag order with post insulting 2 likely witnesses in criminal trial

Days after a New York judge expanded a gag order on Donald Trump meant to curtail “inflammatory” speech ahead of his upcoming criminal hush money trial, the former president tested its limits by disparaging two key witnesses in the case as liars

By JAKE OFFENHARTZ, Associated Press
Published: April 11, 2024, 1:06pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Days after a New York judge expanded a gag order on Donald Trump to curtail “inflammatory” speech, the former president tested its limits by disparaging two key witnesses in his upcoming criminal hush money trial as liars.

In a post on his Truth Social platform Wednesday, Trump called his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the adult film actor Stormy Daniels “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!”

In an order first made in March, and then revised on April 1, Judge Juan Merchan barred Trump from making public statements about probable trial witnesses “concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding.”

Merchan’s order didn’t give specific examples of what types of statements about witnesses were banned. He noted the order was not intended to prevent the former president from responding to political attacks.

The gag order also barred Trump from making public statements of any type about jurors, court staff, lawyers in the case or relatives of prosecutors or of the judge. Trump is allowed to make critical comments about the judge himself and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

It was unclear whether the judge might consider Trump’s criticism of Cohen and Daniels a violation of the gag order.

Both are expected to testify in the trial, which involves allegations that Trump falsified business records at his company to disguise the true nature of payments made to Cohen to reimburse him for a $130,000 payoff made to Daniels. The payment, Cohen says, was intended to keep Daniels from talking publicly about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump that the Republican says never happened.

Gregory Germain, a professor at Syracuse University College of Law, described the latest post as a “close call” unlikely to result in Trump being held in contempt.

“I suspect he’d argue that he criticized their general character, and was not commenting on their ‘potential participation’ in the investigation or proceeding,” Germain said.

But Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University Law School, said Trump’s comment “brands the two witnesses as liars, which goes to the heart of what the order forbids.”

“That’s exactly what a gag order doesn’t want you to do before trial when a potential jury could be influenced,” he said.

Trump and his attorneys have said the gag order violates his free speech rights and prevents him from responding to public attacks as he runs for president.

Daniels has spoken out about harassment she’s received from the former president’s supporters, who she said were “encouraged and commended” by Trump.

In a text message Thursday, Cohen said the attacks were meant to prejudice the jury’s opinion of him.

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