Trump held in contempt for violating hush money trial gag order

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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom, as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S., April 30, 2024. 

Seth Wenig | Via Reuters

This story is developing. Check back for updates throughout the day.

A judge on Tuesday held Donald Trump in contempt of court for repeatedly violating the gag order in his criminal hush money trial in New York.

Trump violated the gag order nine times in online posts targeting jurors and likely witnesses in the trial, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan ruled. He found that prosecutors failed to show that Trump violated one other post.

The judge fined Trump the maximum punishment of $1,000 for each of the nine violations, and ordered him to remove all of the posts by 2:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Merchan also explicitly warned Trump that he could be put in jail if he willfully violates court orders again.

“Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote in his ruling.

Merchan read the order aloud before the trial resumed with more testimony from a banker who worked with the former president’s lawyer on a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

That payment is at the heart of Manhattan prosecutors’ case accusing Trump of falsifying business records as part of a scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney who paid Daniels, applauded the gag order ruling Tuesday morning.

“The imposed fine is irrelevant,” Cohen told NBC News in a statement. “Judge Merchan’s decision elucidates that this behavior will not be tolerated and that no one is above the law.”

A Trump campaign spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the court ruling.

Testimony resumes

Gary Farro, a former senior managing director at First Republic bank, took the stand Friday and continued testifying Tuesday.

On his way into the courtroom, Trump repeated his call for Merchan to both recuse himself from the case and dismiss it entirely.

Former President Donald Trump speaks upon arriving at Manhattan criminal court, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. 

Seth Wenig | Reuters

“The judge should terminate the case because they have no case,” said Trump, who also complained of being unable to campaign for president because he is stuck in court.

The historic trial kicked off last week with opening statements and testimony from the first witnesses, including former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and Trump’s longtime personal secretary Rhona Graff.

Pecker, the former CEO of American Media, testified at length about his unofficial role as the “eyes and ears” for Trump’s 2016 campaign, and his efforts to “catch and kill” damaging information about the reality TV star turned presidential candidate.

Michael Cohen, former attorney for Donald Trump, leaves after attending the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City on Oct. 24, 2023.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

American Media paid $30,000 for the rights to a former Trump Tower doorman’s story about Trump having a secret child, Pecker testified, even though he came to believe the story was untrue.

The company also inked a $150,000 deal with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an extramarital affair with Trump, Pecker said. Pecker, who believed McDougal’s story, said he was never reimbursed by Trump or his company for the payment.

In both cases, Pecker testified that he bought the stories in order to keep them from coming to light and embarrassing Trump, or harming his campaign.

But Pecker said he did not pay to silence Daniels, who says she had sex with Trump while he was married years earlier.

Read more about Trump’s hush money trial

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg alleges Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, clandestinely paid for Daniels’ story by opening a bank account for a nondescript shell company and transferring money into it using a home equity line of credit.

After winning the election, Trump secretly reimbursed Cohen through a series of monthly checks that were falsely labeled as being for legal services rendered in 2017, the DA alleges.

Trump, who lost to President Joe Biden in 2020 and is now campaigning to unseat him in November, is legally required to be in court for the duration of the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

Trump has frequently vented rage about the hush money trial and his three other pending criminal cases, claiming that they are intended to undermine his campaign.

Trump’s outbursts, many of which targeted not only the people involved in the case but also their family members, prompted Merchan to impose a gag order that bars Trump from speaking about jurors and likely witnesses.

Prosecutors have accused Trump of violating the gag order more than a dozen times.

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