Prosecutors in hush-money case seek partial gag order on Trump ahead of his New York criminal trial

New York prosecutors are seeking a limited gag order barring former President Donald Trump from talking about witnesses and court staff members to “protect the integrity of this criminal proceeding” ahead of his trial next month on charges he falsified business records.

The “need for such protection is compelling,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said in a court filing Monday. Trump “has a long history of making public and inflammatory remarks about the participants in various judicial proceedings against him, including jurors, witnesses, lawyers, and court staff.”

“Those remarks, as well as the inevitable reactions they incite from defendant’s followers and allies, pose a significant and imminent threat to the orderly administration of this criminal proceeding and a substantial likelihood of causing material prejudice,” Bragg’s office added.

Lawyers for Trump, meanwhile, filed a pretrial motion in which they asked the judge to bar testimony from three of the DA’s key witnesses in the case — former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The filing paints Cohen and Daniels as liars and says McDougal’s testimony would be “unduly prejudicial.”

Image: Donald Trump Attends Pre-Trial Hearing In New York Hush Money Case (Steven Hirsch / Pool via Getty Images)

Image: Donald Trump Attends Pre-Trial Hearing In New York Hush Money Case (Steven Hirsch / Pool via Getty Images)

The DA is seeking a “narrowly tailored order” barring Trump from “making or directing others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses” in the case; talking about prosecutors in the case besides Bragg, members of the court’s staff and the DA’s staff and their relatives, concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in this criminal proceeding; and talking about “any prospective juror” or juror in the case.

It argues the order is necessary because Trump “has a longstanding and perhaps singular history of using social media, speeches, rallies, and other public statements to attack individuals that he considers to be adversaries, including ‘courts, judges, various law enforcement officials and other public officials, and even individual jurors in other matters.’”

Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, said the DA was seeking “a restrictive gag order, which if granted, would impose an unconstitutional infringement on President Trump’s First Amendment rights, including his ability to defend himself, and the rights of all Americans to hear from President Trump. This is election interference pure and simple.”

The judge presiding over the case, Juan Merchan, issued a protective order last year barring Trump from disclosing evidence he was set to get through the discovery process. Merchan noted that the directive was “not a gag order” and that “it’s certainly not my intention to in any way impede Mr. Trump’s ability to campaign for the presidency of the United States.”

“He is certainly free to deny the charges. He is free to defend himself against the charges. He is free to campaign. He is free to do just about anything that does not violate the specific terms of this protective order,” the judge said then.

The DA’s filing pointed to Trump’s behavior in other cases as a reason a gag order is now necessary, including the threats that were made to the judge and law clerk in Trump’s recently concluded civil fraud case, as well as the number of threats made against Bragg and the people in his office.

“The District Attorney’s office has also received hundreds of threats in the wake of, and connected to, defendant’s public attacks,” the filing said, noting that New York police logged one threat against Bragg and his office in 2022 and 89 in 2023, with the first coming on a day when Trump incorrectly said he was about to be arrested. They also received two “terroristic mailings” that year with white powder.

“The count of threats and terroristic mailings described above does not include thousands of harassing, racist, and offensive emails, phone calls, and text messages related to the People v. Trump prosecution and directed to the District Attorney, Assistant District Attorneys assigned to this prosecution, and members of the Office’s executive staff,” the filing said.

Prosecutors said Trump has a history of “advocating revenge and retribution against his perceived opponents.”

They cited a line from a book he wrote in 2007 that said, “When you are wronged, go after those people because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it.”

The criminal case centers on payments Trump made to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Daniels to stay quiet during the 2016 election about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump has denied that he slept with Daniels, but he has acknowledged repaying Cohen. His attorneys have said he signed off on the payments — marked in his company’s books as legal payments — because he didn’t want to upset his wife by having the allegations become public.

The DA’s office maintains Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records” to hide “damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

In their filing, Trump’s attorneys said Cohen should be barred from testifying because he admitted having lied under oath during his testimony at Trump’s civil fraud trial. The judge who presided over that case found Cohen’s testimony “credible” despite that admission.

Trump also contended that Daniels should be kept off the stand because she has “made clear through public statements that she intends to offer false, salacious, and unduly prejudicial testimony relating to President Trump.”

Trump’s lawyers said McDougal — who also alleged she had an affair with Trump — should be barred because she’s not directly tied to the charges, although prosecutors say Cohen helped orchestrate a $150,000 payment she received from the publishers of the National Enquirer as part of a “catch and kill scheme” to benefit Trump.

Trump, who denied having had an affair with McDougal, also wants to bar the jury from hearing the term “catch and kill,” the filing said.

His attorneys said the DA should also be prevented from telling jurors that Trump signed off on the hush-money payments to Daniels to “influence the outcome” of the 2016 election.

Prosecutors “are arguing that efforts by a candidate to prevent adverse publicity about himself during a campaign equals an attempt to defraud. This argument has no basis in law and is an extraordinary perversion of our election system and the First Amendment,” their filing said.

The judge indicated he felt differently in a ruling this month in which he refused Trump’s request to dismiss the case.

Prosecutors accused Trump of having “paid an individual $130,000 to conceal a sexual encounter in an effort to influence the 2016 Presidential election and then falsified 34 business records to cover up the payoff. In this Court’s view, those are serious allegations,” he wrote.

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