Donald Trump's lawyers press judge to lift gag order in wake of ex-president's felony conviction

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at Trump Tower, Friday, May 31, 2024, in New York. A day after a New York jury found Donald Trump guilty of 34 felony charges, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee addressed the conviction and likely attempt to cast his campaign in a new light. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyers are amplifying their calls to end the gag order that bars the former president from commenting about witnesses, jurors and others tied to the Manhattan criminal trial that ended in his conviction last month for falsifying records to cover up a potential sex scandal.

In a court filing made public Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers urged Judge Juan M. Merchan to end what they deemed an “extraordinary, unprecedented, and unwarranted restriction” on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s free speech rights.

The 23-page defense filing reiterated arguments Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove made days after Trump’s May 30 guilty verdict in a letter they sent to Merchan seeking to lift the gag order. They contend the restrictions should have been rescinded after the verdict.

Prosecutors have suggested keeping that the gag order in effect at least until Trump’s sentencing on July 11, saying it’s necessary “to protect the integrity of these proceedings and the fair administration of justice.”

Merchan issued the gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about Trump's propensity to assail people involved in his cases. Merchan later expanded it to bar comments about his own family after Trump made social media posts attacking the judge’s daughter, a Democratic 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.

Blanche and Bove argued that leaving the gag order in place is unconstitutionally restricting Trump’s ability to respond to rivals and critics, including President Joe Biden’s comments in the wake of the verdict and continued public criticism from his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses. Trump and Biden are scheduled to debate on June 27.

“Trump’s opponents and adversaries are using the Gag Order as a political sword to attack President Trump with reference to this case, on the understanding that his ability to mount a detailed response is severely restricted by the Gag Order,” Blanche and Bove wrote.

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

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.