April 20, 2024

The judge presiding over Donald Trump‘s impending New York criminal trial expanded a partial gag order Monday night following the former president’s online attacks against his daughter.

State Judge Juan Merchan said Trump is barred from attacking his family members and those of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, in addition to the witnesses, prosecutors, court staff members and their relatives whom he was directed to “refrain” from talking about in a previous gag order issued last week.

Trump’s “pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose. It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game’ for Defendant’s vitriol,” Merchan said Monday. “It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real.”

Trump’s actions, he wrote, could have a chilling effect on a case that’s just two weeks from the trial start date.

“The average observer must now, after hearing Defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself,” Merchan wrote.

Lawyers for Trump had argued in a filing Monday that his repeated attacks on Merchan’s daughter were protected political speech, while Manhattan prosecutors urged Merchan to crack down on Trump’s escalating rhetoric.

Bragg’s office contended Trump’s bashing of Merchan’s daughter on social media “fundamentally threatens the integrity of these proceedings and is intended to intimidate witnesses and trial participants alike.”

The Trump attorneys’ filing said Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, was not trying to interfere with the trial or “cause harm to anyone” but suggested he was, indeed, trying to pressure the judge.

“President Trump’s comments concerning Your Honor’s daughter are, properly understood, a criticism of the Court’s prior decision not to recuse itself,” the filing said. Trump asked Merchan last year to step down from the case.

“President Trump’s social media posts amplified defense arguments regarding the need for recusal that have been, and will continue to be, the subject of motion practice,” the filing added.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung argued in a statement before the ruling Monday night that Merchan has a “clear conflict” because of his daughter and “should do the right thing and immediately recuse himself.”

Merchan’s decision in August refusing to step aside noted that he had sought guidance from the state courts system’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics over his daughter’s employment. The committee found the DA’s case “does not involve either the judge’s relative or the relative’s business, whether directly or indirectly. They are not parties or likely witnesses in the matter, and none of the parties or counsel before the judge are clients in the business. We see nothing in the inquiry to suggest that the outcome of the case could have any effect on the judge’s relative, the relative’s business, or any of their interests.”

Merchan’s daughter has worked as president of Authentic Campaigns, a firm Vice President Kamala Harris used for digital fundraising and advertising during her presidential campaign. The firm describes itself as “a digital agency progressives can trust to get the job done right.”

Bragg’s office contended that Trump’s “claim of a constitutional right to levy personal attacks on family members is as disturbing as it is wrong.”

“This issue is not complicated. Family members of trial participants must be strictly off-limits. Defendant’s insistence to the contrary bespeaks a dangerous sense of entitlement to instigate fear and even physical harm to the loved ones of those he sees in the courtroom,” the DA’s filing said.

Merchan slapped Trump with a partial gag order last week barring him from trashing witnesses, court staff members and their families. The order did not mention Merchan or his family.

Trump has since repeatedly taken shots online at Merchan and his daughter.

“Maybe the Judge is such a hater because his daughter makes money by working to ‘Get Trump,’” one of Trump’s posts on Truth Social said. He used her name in a separate post, and another linked to an article with pictures of the daughter.

Another post accused the daughter of using a picture of Trump behind bars as her profile picture on an X account that Al Baker, a spokesperson for the state Office of Court Administration, said was not actually hers. Baker recently said that someone apparently re-created a version of the woman’s shuttered account last year, which he called the “manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned.”

The DA’s office said in Monday’s filing that Trump’s attacks were based on “transparent falsehoods” but that “the facts are beside the point for this defendant.”

“There is no constitutional right to target the family of this Court, let alone on the blatant falsehoods that have served as the flimsiest pretexts for defendant’s attacks. Defendant knows what he is doing, and everyone else does too,” Bragg’s office contended.

Prosecutors asked Merchan to clarify that the order does extend to his daughter and said he should expand it if it does not. They also urged him to warn Trump that “any statutory right he may have to access juror names will be forfeited by continued harassing or disruptive conduct.” The DA’s office previously contended that Merchan could find Trump in criminal contempt for willful disobedience of a court order, which can include a penalty of up to 30 days imprisonment, if he “continues to disregard such orders.”

Trump’s attorneys said in their filing that Merchan should not expand the gag order, which they called “an unlawful prior restraint that improperly restricts campaign advocacy by the presumptive Republican nominee and leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election.”

The filing did not acknowledge the apparent social media hoax involving Merchan’s daughter; instead, it blasted Merchan for Baker’s statement, suggesting that it was inappropriate and tantamount to Merchan’s having “weighed in.”

In his ruling, Merchan found Trump’s arguments were “at best strained and at worst baseless misrepresentations which are uncorroborated and rely upon innuendo and exaggeration.”

“Put mildly, the assortment of allegations presented as ‘facts’ and cobbled together, result in accusations that are disingenuous and not rational. To argue that the most recent attacks, which included photographs, were ‘necessary and appropriate in the current environment,’ is farcical,” he wrote.

Merchan issued the warning about jurors’ names and also said “that any violation of this Order will result in sanctions” in the criminal contempt statutes cited by the DA.

Trump’s attorneys faulted Merchan for speaking to The Associated Press for a profile the news service published last month, saying he violated the state code of judicial conduct by commenting on the case. “According to reports of the interview, Your Honor indicated that the Court ‘wouldn’t talk about the case,’ but did so anyway,” the filing said, pointing to his remarks that “‘There’s no agenda here. … We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.’”

It also complained that Merchan participated in the interview while Trump was waiting to hear whether he would allow him to file a motion to delay the trial because of pretrial publicity.

That filing was made public Monday. In it, Trump’s lawyers argued that the “exceptionally prejudicial pretrial publicity, which is substantial, ongoing, and likely to increase,” will prevent him from getting a fair trial in the case, which alleges that he falsified business records related to a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump, which he denies.

The filing says both Cohen and Daniels have contributed to the prejudicial publicity by repeatedly criticizing Trump in often graphic terms, even though the DA’s office has asked them not to speak about the case. Trump is seeking an indefinite adjournment of the trial “until prejudicial press coverage abates.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges.