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Trump Gag Order Expanded by Judge Before Hush-Money Trial

(Bloomberg) -- The New York judge presiding over Donald Trump’s hush-money trial expanded a gag order in the case after the former president attacked the judge and his daughter on social media.

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Judge Juan Merchan had already restricted what Trump could say publicly about jurors and potential witnesses in the trial that starts April 15. But Merchan expanded his March 26 gag order Monday to include comments about prosecutors, court employees and their families. However, Trump can still make comments about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the criminal charges.

“The court has an obligation to prevent outside influences, including extrajudicial speech, from disturbing the integrity of the court,” Merchan wrote. “The uncontested record reflecting the defendant’s prior extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice.”

Trump lashed out about the expanded gag order in a Tuesday post on his Truth Social site, calling it “election interference.”

Bragg had requested more restrictions last week, citing Trump’s false claim that Merchan’s daughter Loren had posted an image of the former president behind bars on her social media account. Court officials said the Twitter account Trump cited was manipulated to look like the one Loren Merchan had deleted about a year ago.

Trump, who is campaigning for a return to the White House, is accused of falsifying business records in 2016 to conceal a sex scandal from voters in the runup to the presidential election that year. He allegedly authorized payments to a porn star who claimed she had an affair with the real estate mogul a decade earlier.

‘Witch Hunt’

The former president, who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president in 2024, has denied wrongdoing in the case, as well as in two other criminal prosecutions tied to election interference and one involving classified documents. He says they’re all part of a political “witch hunt” by Democrats.

Prosecutors asked Merchan on Monday to warn Trump that his access to jurors’ names, which already are being withheld from the public, could be “forfeited by continued harassing or disruptive conduct.” The former president appears to be under the false impression that, as a criminal defendant, he has “a constitutional right to target the family of the court,” the district attorney’s lawyers said.

Bragg’s office also asked the judge to clarify the scope of his gag order, saying Trump’s claim about Merchan’s daughter was a “blatant falsehood” that had already been rejected by the court last year.

Merchan said Monday Trump’s recent statements “went far beyond defending himself against ‘attacks’ by ‘public figures.”’ He said the former president’s “statements were threatening, inflammatory, denigrating,” and targeted court staff and private individuals, “including grand jurors performing their civic duty.”

Read More: Keeping Up With Trump and His Trials

The judge said his expanded gag order is consistent with the one US District Judge Tanya Chutkan placed upon the former president in his pending federal case in Washington, DC.

Merchan said “the fairness of the trial is threatened” and noted that his prior orders had little impact on curbing the former president’s comments. “Given that the eve of trial is upon us,” the judge said “the risk of harm is now paramount.”

Trump has claimed Merchan’s daughter, Loren, who works at a political firm that has advised Democrats, was profiting from her father’s rulings. In a Truth Social post on March 27, a day after Merchan imposed his original gag order, Trump complained that the judge’s “daughter is allowed to post pictures of her ‘dream’ of putting me in jail” while “I am not allowed to talk about the attacks against me.”

A day later, Bragg’s office asked Merchan to expand the gag order and direct Trump to “immediately desist from attacks on family members.” They also asked the court to give Trump a “judicial warning of possible contempt” to prevent “further offensive conduct.” Trump’s comments could chill potential prosecution witnesses and make them fear for their safety, according to Bragg.

In his Tuesday post, Trump called Merchan “conflicted” and said the judge “GAGGED me so that I can not talk about the corruption and conflicts taking place in his courtroom with respect to a case that everyone, including the D.A., felt should never have been brought.”

In arguing against the expanded gag order, defense lawyers claimed Merchan’s daughter “is actively supporting adversarial campaign speech by President Trump’s political opponents.”

Merchan’s daughter also came up in court last year, when the judge rejected Trump’s argument that he should step aside from the case. At the time, the former president complained about Loren Merchan’s job as well as a $15 donation the judge made to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Trump “failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds,” Merchan said in an Aug. 14 ruling.

(Updates with Trump’s comment.)

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