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Trump Gagged in Manhattan Hush Money Case

(Photo courtesy of CNN) “Donald J. Trump in court.”

Duncan Cowie
Connector Editor

For the first time in the History of America, there is about to be a former president standing trial in a criminal case. Donald J. Trump is currently involved in multiple cases against him, including Georgia election interference, federal election interference, Mar-a-Lago classified document handling, and the upcoming hush money coverup case.  

The hush money case is about falsified business documents within The Trump Organization to cover payments to adult-actress Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claimed Trump had had an adulterous affair with them. The Trump campaign allegedly paid large amounts of money to both women in order to attempt to keep the news out of the media for fear of hurting his presidential campaign, while billing them under legal fees for the organization. Keeping records falsely is a misdemeanor, but the prosecution is attempting to prove that he did this to cover up a second crime, in this case falsifying the business documents in accordance with the Trump campaign, to upgrade the charges to a low-grade felony. Trump keeps the stance that while he did pay off these women, it did not have anything to do with the case and that neither encounter even happened in the first place. 

Judge Juan Merchan has issued a gag order on Trump, an order that requires parts of the case to be kept out of the press. According to UMass Lowell Legal Studies Professor Walter Toomey, gag orders can be risky and difficult to maintain due to the amount of scrutiny on them as a limiter of free speech, and get close to what could be called prior restraint. Prior restraint is the idea of the judicial system suppressing material that would be published in the press, and while the First Amendment does not free the publisher and author of any consequences, it does allow them to post it in the first place with no restrictions on what can and cannot be said.  

Professor Toomey states that gag orders were tested under the Nebraska Press Association vs Stewart case and that they are only found constitutional if “public dissemination harm[s] the fair trial, [if] it is the least restrictive, and whether it is the most effective way to achieve the effect.” The typical consequence of breaking a gag order is admonishment, fines, or jail time. When it is against an individual it is usually fines, which Trump has been hit with when breaking gag orders in the past, for a total of ten thousand dollars. 

On March 26, Judge Merchan gave a gag order to Trump that prevented him from making public statements on the witnesses, the prosecutor, the court staff, and all their families. Trump very quickly challenged this by posting an article with a picture of the judge’s daughter on his social media site, Truth Social, on March 28, condemning her for working at a democratic consulting firm and claiming she had posted photoshopped pictures of him in prison. Judge Merchan then expanded the gag order on April 1 to include his own family and the family of the district attorney. 

Trump argues that this is relevant to the case and isn’t and shouldn’t violate the gag order as he was commenting on the political nature of the case and biases the judge might have, but while he hasn’t taken down the post about the judge’s daughter, he hasn’t said anything new about it.  

In this highly political case, it is important the judge stay completely impartial. In an ordinary case, Professor Toomey says attacking the family of the judge would be “Insane,” but this case will be watched and put under a microscope as a historic trial, and while the judge will attempt to issue orders to keep “decorum in the courtroom.” Trump doesn’t have much to lose mouthing off in this trial. 

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