Judge Merchan threatens Trump with jail time for gag order violations in hush money trial

NEW YORK — Donald Trump was threatened with jail time by Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan on Monday after being found in criminal contempt again for the tenth violation of a gag order in his hush money case.

In his sternest warning yet, Merchan, in stunning courtroom remarks, said it appeared the $1,000 fines he has issued for Trump’s violations were not serving as a deterrent and that he must start considering more severe punishment. He told the Republican frontrunner, “It’s important you understand that the last thing I want to do is put you in jail.”

“You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next [POTUS] as well,” the judge said.

Merchan said Trump’s repeated violations were “direct attacks on the rule of law” and that he “cannot allow that to continue.”

“The magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me, but at the end of the day, I have a job to do and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system,” Merchan addressed Trump.

In a written order on Monday, Merchan found Trump had violated the order in an interview on the conservative channel Real America’s Voice when he talked about the jury and how it was selected.

“You know [the judge is] rushing the trial like crazy. Nobody’s ever seen a thing go like this. That jury was picked so fast – 95% democrats. The area’s mostly all democrat. You think of it as a – just a purely democrat area. It’s a very unfair situation that I can tell you,” Trump said in the April 22 interview.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies that allege he repeatedly and fraudulently falsified business records to cover up the reimbursement to Cohen to disguise the underlying election conspiracy.

After the warning, prosecutors called their tenth witness to the stand — former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney.

Over the last two weeks, the prosecution has laid out an alleged conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election. They are now expected to begin linking that scheme to the falsification of business records charges Trump is facing, which relate to his alleged reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels in 2017.

“DJT needs to sign the check”

Documents displayed for the jury showed that many of the checks to Cohen — the core of the case — were paid directly out of Trump’s personal bank account.

Under questions from prosecutor Matthew Colangelo, McConney, who oversaw Trump’s company’s general ledgers, walked the court through two critical pieces of evidence: a bank statement and notepad scribbles memorializing the transactions.

In “chicken scratch” handwriting, they showed how McConney and convicted ex-finance chief Allen Weisselberg arrived at the $420,000 they sent Cohen in installments of $35,000 and how they’d “wire funds monthly from President Trump’s personal account.”

“DJT needs to sign the check,” read one notation displayed in court.

McConney said that then-President Trump was the only signatory for checks coming out of his account, which meant the controller had to ensure they were sent to the White House for his signature.

“Somehow, we’d have to get a package down to the White House, get the president to sign the checks, get the checks returned to us and then send the checks out.”

Documents and tax forms displayed for the jury showed that the initial checks to Cohen, amounting to $105,000, had come out of Trump’s trust, and, from March 2017 onward, out of Trump’s own bank account. Those payments totaled $315,000.

Gag order warning follows previous fines

Merchan’s warning came after prosecutors last week flagged four more instances of Trump potentially violating a gag order implemented before the trial started by criticizing witnesses and jurors on his social media website, Truth Social, and in media interviews. Merchan has fined him $9,000 so far.

The gag order prohibits Trump from making public statements — or directing others to make them — about the jury, witnesses, potential witnesses, prosecutors, court staff, and the relatives of all trial participants. The judge expanded it to include his own relatives after Trump publicly targeted Merchan’s daughter online.

Merchan, who did not find Trump’s comments about witnesses Michael Cohen and David Pecker clearly violated the order, said Trump’s comments about jurors were an unambiguous breach.

“Defendant not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones,” the judge wrote.