Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Trump Held in Contempt in New York Trial, Faces Jail Time for Witness Intimidation

Judge Merchan imposes $9,000 fine and threatens jail time if Trump continues to violate gag order against intimidating witnesses and jurors.

trump contempt new york
Photo: Edenpictures

In a rebuke of Donald Trump’s continued violations of the gag order placed on him, New York Judge Juan Merchan has held the former president in criminal contempt and issued a stern warning: cease the attacks on witnesses and jurors, or face incarceration. This unprecedented step underscores the grave threat Trump poses to the integrity of the judicial system and the bedrock principles of democracy.

This contempt ruling by Judge Juan Merchan comes in the wake of Trump’s repeated violations of a gag order explicitly prohibiting him from making public statements about potential witnesses and jurors in his hush money criminal trial.

Undeterred by the court’s clear directives, the former president took to his Truth Social platform and campaign website, launching a relentless barrage of vitriol against key figures like Michael Cohen, his former fixer, and Stormy Daniels, the adult film star at the center of the hush money scandal.

This is far from the first time Trump has faced repercussions for flouting gag orders and judicial authority. Last year, during his civil bank fraud trial, Judge Arthur F. Engoron repeatedly fined him and considered jailing him after he continued threatening the judge’s clerk. 

In the current criminal case, tensions have escalated, with Judge Merchan firmly ordering Trump to stop muttering at a juror during the first week, warning “I will not have any jurors intimidated.” Just days later, the judge had to instruct Trump to sit down, treating him like a misbehaving child. 

Notably, Merchan has allowed Trump to attend his son’s high school graduation, despite the former president’s claims of being blocked from the event—yet another attempt to portray himself as the victim.

Donald Trump Fined $9,000 for Criminal Contempt of Court

Donald Trump
Photo: Gage Skidmore

Merchan’s ruling is a condemnation of Trump’s actions, imposing a $9,000 fine ($1,000 per violation, maximum allowable fine for contempt ruling) and demanding the immediate removal of the offending posts that were the basis for the contempt charge. However, the judge’s stern warning that further violations could result in incarceration underscores the gravity of the situation. As Merchan noted, the relatively modest fine might not deter a wealthy individual like Trump, necessitating the consideration of more severe consequences.

In a series of nine offending posts, Trump attacked Cohen and Daniels as “sleaze bags” and falsely portrayed years-old statements from Daniels denying their alleged affair.

Trump was also fined for a social media post misrepresenting a 2018 statement made by Stormy Daniels denying their affair. He reposted the years-old statement on Truth Social, falsely portraying it as new evidence with the misleading caption: “LOOK WHAT WAS JUST FOUND! WILL THE FAKE NEWS REPORT IT?” Conveniently omitted was the fact that Daniels had long since recanted that denial, which she originally made under threat of a nondisclosure agreement. 

He also quoted Fox News commentator Jesse Watters, who denigrated potential jurors as “undercover liberal activists.” 

Despite Trump’s transparent attempts to cast his actions as mere “political speech,” Judge Merchan wasn’t buying it. In his ruling, the judge firmly rejected the notion that Trump’s posts constituted legitimate responses to “political attacks,” stating that “merely characterizing every one of defendant’s postings as a response to a ‘political attack’ does not make them so.”

While Trump’s legal team attempted to justify his conduct, their arguments crumbled under the weight of Merchan’s scrutiny. The judge methodically dismantled the notion that reposting or sharing others’ comments absolved Trump of responsibility, declaring it “counterintuitive and indeed absurd” to exempt such actions from the gag order’s purview.

Moreover, Merchan’s decision to potentially reconsider the protections afforded to certain individuals, such as Cohen, sends a clear message that witnesses cannot weaponize the gag order as a “sword” to launch their own attacks while remaining shielded from retaliation. This balanced approach acknowledges the delicate equilibrium between protecting witnesses and preserving the defendant’s right to defend themselves.

Hush Money Trial Continues Tomorrow

The battle lines are being drawn, with a second contempt hearing against Trump already scheduled for tomorrow. Judge Merchan seems reluctant to escalate the conflict, but the former president’s persistent defiance and utter disregard for judicial authority may force the court’s hand.