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Prosecutors want Donald Trump to remain under a gag order at least until he’s sentenced July 11

By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press
Published: June 5, 2024, 9:53am

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors urged a judge Wednesday to keep Donald Trump ’s gag order in place in his hush money criminal case at least until the former president is sentenced in July, opposing a defense request that the restrictions be lifted following his felony convictions last week.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told Judge Juan M. Merchan in a letter that the Manhattan DA’s office opposes any immediate termination of the gag order, which bars Trump from commenting about witnesses, jurors and others tied to the case — but not the judge himself.

The court “has an obligation to protect the integrity of these proceedings and the fair administration of justice at least through the sentencing hearing and the resolution of any post-trial motions,” Colangelo wrote.

On Tuesday, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove had asked Merchan to end the gag order, arguing there was nothing to justify “continued restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump” now that the trial is over.

In issuing the gag order in March, Merchan noted that prosecutors had sought it “for the duration of the trial.” Colangelo argued, however, that the order was “based not only on the need to avoid threats to the fairness of the trial itself” but also the judge’s “obligation to prevent actual harm to the integrity” of the case.

Colangelo said prosecutors favor having both sides submit written arguments to the court on the gag order issue in the next few weeks — a step that, if Merchan agrees, would keep the restrictions in place at least until nearly the end of the month.

A message seeking comment was left for Blanche.

Trump was convicted last Thursday of 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election. She claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies.

Trump is scheduled to be sentenced July 11. His conviction is punishable by up to four years behind bars, but prosecutors have not said if they would seek incarceration and it’s not clear if Merchan would impose such a sentence. Other options include a fine or probation.

Blanche and Bove argued in their letter Tuesday that Trump is entitled to “unrestrained campaign advocacy” in light of President Joe Biden’s public comments about the verdict last Friday, and continued public criticism of Trump by his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses.

Trump’s lawyers also contend the gag order must go away so he’s free to fully address the case and his conviction with the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27.

Merchan issued Trump’s gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s propensity to assail people involved in his cases.

Merchan later expanded it to prohibit comments about his own family after Trump made social media posts attacking the judge’s daughter, a Democratic political consultant. Comments about Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg are allowed, but the gag order bars statements about court staff and members of Bragg’s prosecution team.

Trump has continued to operate somewhat under the idea that he’s still muzzled, telling reporters Friday at Trump Tower: “I’m under a gag order, nasty gag order.”

Referring to Cohen, Trump said, “I’m not allowed to use his name because of the gag order” before slamming his lawyer-turned-courtroom foe as “a sleazebag.”

During the trial, Merchan held Trump in contempt of court, fined him $10,000 for violating the gag order and threatened to put him in jail if he did it again.

Trump’s use of the term “sleazebag” to describe Cohen just before the trial rankled prosecutors, but was not considered a gag order violation by the judge. Merchan declined to sanction Trump for an April 10 social media post, which referred to Cohen and Daniels by that insult.

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The judge said at the time that Trump’s contention that he was responding to previous posts by Cohen that were critical of him “is sufficient to give” him pause on whether prosecutors met their burden in demonstrating that the post was out of bounds.