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Donald Trump assails judge and his daughter after gag order in New York hush-money criminal case

By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press
Published: March 27, 2024, 12:17pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday at the New York judge who put him under a gag order ahead of his April 15 hush-money criminal trial, suggesting without evidence that the veteran jurist was kowtowing to his daughter’s interests as a Democratic political consultant. The former president objected in particular to what he said was her specious social media photo showing him behind bars.

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, posted on social media that the gag order issued Tuesday was “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional.” He said Judge Juan M. Merchan was “wrongfully attempting to deprive me of my First Amendment Right to speak out against the Weaponization of Law Enforcement” by Democratic rivals and urged him to step aside from the case.

The gag order, which was requested by the prosecution, bars Trump from either making or directing other people to make public statements on his behalf about jurors and potential witnesses in the hush-money trial, such as his lawyer turned nemesis Michael Cohen and porn star Stormy Daniels. It also prohibits any statements meant to interfere with or harass the court’s staff, prosecution team or their families.

It does not bar comments about Merchan or his family, nor does it prohibit criticism of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the elected Democrat whose office is prosecuting Trump.

Merchan’s daughter, whose firm has worked on campaigns for President Joe Biden and other Democrats, “makes money by working to ‘Get Trump’” and recently posted a fake photo on social media depicting her “obvious goal” of seeing him behind bars, Trump said. He argued those circumstances make it “completely impossible for me to get a fair trial.”

Trump did not link to the purported photo, but an account appearing to belong to Loren Merchan on X, formerly known as Twitter, showed a photo illustration of an imprisoned Trump as its profile picture Wednesday morning. It was later changed. Loren Merchan’s consulting firm had linked to that same account in a previous social media post.

“So, let me get this straight,” Trump wrote on Truth Social, “the Judge’s daughter is allowed to post pictures of her ‘dream’ of putting me in jail … but I am not allowed to talk about the attacks against me, and the Lunatics trying to destroy my life and prevent me from winning the 2024 Presidential Election, which I am dominating?”

“Maybe the Judge is such a hater because his daughter makes money by working to ‘Get Trump’ and when he rules against me over and over again, he is making her company, and her, richer and richer,” Trump continued. “How can this be allowed?”

Messages seeking comment were left with Merchan, his daughter, and a spokesperson for New York’s state court system. Bragg’s office declined to comment.

Trump’s three-part Truth Social post was his first reaction to the gag order. His focus on Merchan’s daughter and her ties to Democratic politics echoed his lawyers’ arguments last year when they urged the judge to exit the case. The judge had also made several small donations totaling $35 to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign, including $15 to Biden.

Merchan said then that a state court ethics panel found that Loren Merchan’s work had no bearing on his impartiality. The judge said in a ruling last September that he was certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial” and that Trump’s lawyers had “failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete, or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds.”

“The Judge has to recuse himself immediately, and right the wrong committed by not doing so last year,” Trump wrote Wednesday. “If the Biased and Conflicted Judge is allowed to stay on this Sham ‘Case,’ it will be another sad example of our Country becoming a Banana Republic, not the America we used to know and love.”

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In a recent interview, Merchan told The Associated Press, that he and his staff were working diligently to prepare for the historic first trial of a former president.

“There’s no agenda here,” Merchan said. “We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.”

Trump’s hush-money case, set to be the first of his four criminal cases to go to trial, centers on allegations that he falsely logged payments to Cohen as legal fees in his company’s books when they were for Cohen’s work during the 2016 campaign covering up negative stories about Trump. That included $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels on Trump’s behalf so she wouldn’t publicize her claim of a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last April to 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, though there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in jail time. He denies having sex with Daniels and his lawyers have said that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not part of any coverup.

In issuing the gag order, Merchan cited Trump’s history of “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” remarks about people involved in his legal cases. A violation could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Though not covered by the restrictions, Merchan referenced Trump’s various comments about him as an example of his rhetoric. The gag order mirrors one imposed and largely upheld by a federal appeals court panel in Trump’s Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case.

Trump’s lawyers fought a gag order, warning it would amount to unconstitutional and unlawful prior restraint on his free speech rights.

Merchan had long resisted imposing one, recognizing Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate and not wanting to trample his ability to defend himself publicly.

But, he said, as the trial nears, he found that his obligation to ensuring the integrity of the case outweighs First Amendment concerns. He said Trump’s statements have induced fear and necessitated added security measures to protect his targets and investigate threats.

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