‘Losing All Credibility’: Judge Rips Trump Team at Tense Gag Order Hearing

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty
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A New York judge did not hold back on Tuesday as prosecutors pushed to hold Donald Trump in contempt for attacking jurors and witnesses—just seven days into his landmark hush money trial.

“You’re losing all credibility,” Merchan told Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, at one point, noting that the former president’s team had presented no concrete evidence as they made their defense.

On top of the 34 criminal counts Trump is already facing, prosecutors say his “willful violations” of a limited gag order handed down last month by the judge have crossed the line into outright contempt.

“It’s ridiculous,” prosecutor Christopher Conroy said in court last week. “It has to stop.”

When Trump entered the packed 15th-floor courtroom at 9:30 a.m., he strode to his seat at the defense table, licking his lips, and paying special attention to a pad on the lap of one of the sketch artists documenting the goings-on. (She hadn’t begun to draw anything yet.) He walked past seven rows of spectators, among them attorney George Conway, a vocal anti-Trumper now estranged from wife and former top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, as well as reporters from every major media outlet, domestic and international.

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg looked on from his seat in the gallery’s front row, surrounded by attorneys from his office. His security team sat behind him, earpieces extending from inside their jackets. Trump’s Secret Service detail occupied the row behind the defense table, looking on intently. A cadre of uniformed court officers stood watch in the well of the courtroom and wandered the aisles to keep watch over the spectators and press.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office began the day by asking New York State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan to punish the famously uncontrollable Trump over at least 10 recent breaches of the order—and a possible 11th infraction last night.

Prosecutors insist Trump has repeatedly violated the order that bars him from denigrating anyone involved in his Manhattan criminal case, or their families, and he should be fined $1,000 per violation.

“The defendant has violated this order repeatedly and hasn’t stopped,” prosecutor Christopher Conroy said in his opening argument.

Among them: he has continued to speak out on Truth Social, called star witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels “sleaze bags,” and shared articles about his case online. Conroy said Trump has also publicly accused “undercover liberal activists” of infiltrating the jury and attacking Merchan’s adult daughter on social media, claiming, without evidence, that she was a “rabid Trump hater.”

Defense attorney Todd Blanche told Merchan that Trump was “extremely frustrated” by what he believes is a two-tiered system of justice. (Trump, in fact, has been given an incredible amount of leeway by the judge, well beyond what a normal defendant would enjoy, according to legal experts.)

Gloves Off! DA Wants Trump Punished for Contempt on Day 1

After Trump gestured and muttered under his breath about a prospective juror in open court last week, Merchan warned Trump to cut it out or face sanctions. When defense attorney Blanche said he’d take responsibility for reining in his client, Merchan told him he was not optimistic that doing so would even be possible.

On Tuesday, Conroy told Merchan that Trump is essentially incorrigible and cannot help himself.

“Yesterday, right outside those doors, where he has conducted press conferences on his way into and out of the courtroom, the defendant violated the gag order, on camera,” Conroy said, explaining that Trump painted Cohen as a liar during his impromptu hallway press conference.

“No one is off limits to the defendant,” Conroy said.

“After the March 26th order, the defendant ratcheted up [his] attacks,” Conroy told Merchan, adding that Trump “was warned” not to further violate the gag order. “And here we are.”

The prosecutor detailed how Trump posted on Truth Social, including calling his former “fixer” Cohen a “disgraced attorney and felon.” As he rattled off a long list of Trump’s alleged violations, the former president stared straight ahead without so much as a glance at Conroy.

“The defendant doesn’t care,” Conroy said.

“The court and the people [have left] Trump substantial room” to criticize the trial without violating Merchan’s April 1 order, Conroy said. “The defendant is knowingly and willfully breaching… the crystal-clear lines” laid out by Merchan, according to Conroy. He said Trump has argued that his “reposts aren’t his own statements,” such as a manipulated photo of the former president “holding a bat to the head of the New York District Attorney.” This, Conroy, went on, is a wholesale misunderstanding of what the order says.

“We are not yet seeking an incarceratory penalty,” said Conroy, although Trump “seems to be angling for that.” He went on to ask Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 for each violation, for a total of $10,000, as Trump tries his best “to undermine this process.” Conroy said he hopes a punishment will “stop this defendant from engaging in this behavior.”

Although it seems like a minuscule amount for a wealthy man like Trump, the former president’s lawyer called his client a frugal, penny-pinching businessman.

On Monday night, Trump called into right-wing network Real America’s Voice, bellyaching: “This judge, who is a totally conflicted person, by the way, he should not be the judge of this case, he’s so conflicted, nobody’s ever been as conflicted as him, just about, but this judge said I can’t get away from the trial. You know he’s rushing the trial. That jury was picked so fast, 95 percent Democrats. The area is mostly all Democrats. You think of it as just a purely Democrat area. It’s a very unfair situation, that I can tell you.”

It is unclear if Bragg’s office will ask Merchan to add the call-in to its ever-expanding list of infractions.

When Conroy was finished, defense attorney Blanche claimed that Trump had not violated the order in any way, arguing that Trump, very obviously a public figure, has endured “political attacks from all sides” made by trial witnesses like Cohen. He said Trump’s “comments back to them” were his prerogative and claimed they were perfectly legal. Trump continued staring straight ahead, expressionless, as Blanche quoted a social media post by disgraced attorney and “Never Trumper” Michael Avenatti, who represented Daniels before he went to prison over professional wrongdoing in an unrelated case, which called Trump “the orange menace.”

Merchan asked Blanche if he had “spoken to Mr. Avenatti” about what he meant by the post, noting that he didn’t want to rely on the attorney’s personal interpretation.

“No, of course not,” Blanche said.

“Well, how can you infer?” Merchan asked as Blanche continued insisting that Trump should be “able to respond to political attacks.”

Blanche at one point became animated when countering Merchan, exclaiming, “He’s running for president! He should be able to answer.”

Merchan then ordered a digressing Blanche to answer his questions, not to “turn things around.”

“Your honor, the People got to speak as long as they wanted!” he complained.

Blanche floated the notion that Trump was not attacking Cohen, but “attacking the system,” instead.

Merchan appeared unmoved by this argument, as Blanche shot back, “It’s not making a mockery of the gag order, your honor. It’s a close call.”

“I just want to make you aware… the People have presented 10 exhibits. You have presented nothing.”

“This gag order, we are trying to comply with it... And President Trump is trying very hard to comply with it,” Blanche said.

Merchan then drilled down about the “repost” issue. Suppose a protester outside was waving around a sign saying “terrible, terrible things about the jury,” Merchan told Blanche. “And your client were to grab that placard” and walk around with it. Is it OK for Trump to do so “because he didn’t write that?”

The narrowly worded order handed down by Judge Juan Merchan bars the former president from making statements of any kind about witnesses, jurors, and attorneys involved in the case, with the exception of Bragg and Merchan himself. But Trump defied the order three times on the very first day of proceedings, after which he did it seven more times, according to Bragg’s office—which is asking Merchan to fine Trump $1,000 for each violation and, if he continues to stand defiant, jail the twice-impeached ex-commander-in-chief for up to 30 days.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts for allegedly conspiring to falsify business records to conceal a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels so she wouldn’t speak out about their alleged affair during the 2016 presidential election.

The former president has long insisted that all he did was pay his lawyer and that the trial itself is interfering with his latest big run for commander-in-chief.

Merchan said Tuesday that he will rule on the contempt charges at a later time.

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