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Trump violates gag order again, held in 'contempt of court'


Former President Donald Trump awaits the start of his criminal trial at Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 6, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump awaits the start of his criminal trial at Manhattan criminal court in New York, May 6, 2024.

The judge at former President Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial held him in contempt of court again Monday for violating a gag order prohibiting him from attacking prospective witnesses in the case.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan sternly warned Trump he could be jailed if he continues to ignore the order.

Merchan ruled at the outset of the third week of testimony at Trump’s trial in which he is accused of falsifying business records at his Trump Organization to hide a $130,000 hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her ahead of the 2016 election and keep her from talking about her claim of a one-night tryst with Trump a decade earlier.

Trump has denied her claim of a liaison and all 34 charges he is facing. But Merchan warned him that his violation of the gag order is a “direct attack on the rule of law. I cannot allow that to continue."

Merchan said “the last thing” he wanted to do was to put Trump in jail but would if he had to, adding, “You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president as well.”

Merchan fined Trump another $1,000 for the violation of the gag order, on top of the $9,000 he fined him last week for another nine violations of the gag order. Last week, Merchan acknowledged that the penalty was a pittance for a billionaire like Trump.

Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign started fundraising off the latest gag order contempt ruling. Outside the courtroom, Trump told reporters that Merchan “had taken away my constitutional right to speak.” He added, “It’s a fake trial,” and said prosecutors “have no case whatsoever.”

The case resumed Monday, with the 12-member jury yet to hear from two key witnesses in the case — Daniels and Trump’s former lawyer and political fixer, convicted perjurer Michael Cohen.

Jurors have heard plenty of testimony about Cohen and Daniels during the last two weeks, but prosecutors have not tipped their hand when the pair might be called to the witness stand.

However, Jeffrey McConney, a former corporate controller at the Trump Organization, testified Monday for three hours about how Cohen sent invoices to the company so he could be reimbursed for the $130,000 he paid to Daniels.

McConney said that in early 2017, the payments were drawn from the Trump Organization account but later from Trump’s personal bank account.

Deborah Tarasoff, the Trump Organization’s accounts payable supervisor, described sending checks to Trump at the White House to sign, who then returned them with his signature in black Sharpie. The jurors were shown copies of the checks.

In all, Cohen was paid $420,000, including $130,000 to reimburse him for the money he had withdrawn from his home equity line of credit to pay Daniels, and even more for a bonus and enough to cover his tax liability for the payments to him.

Trump has claimed the payments to Cohen in 2017 were for his legal work under a retainer with the Trump Organization. But prosecutors have said there was no such retainer for legal work, and McConney said he never saw such a document.

Instead, McConney said he authorized the payments to Cohen not knowing precisely what they were for, but taking direction from Allen Weisselberg, a former chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, and Eric Trump, the former president’s second son.

Jurors were shown an email from Weisselberg saying that it was OK to pay Cohen “per agreement with Don and Eric,” referring to the then-president and his son.

Weisselberg is currently serving a five-month prison sentence for committing perjury at Trump’s recent civil business fraud case, while Eric sat near his father in the courtroom on the 12th day of the trial.

“You were told to do something, and you did it?” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo asked McConney.

“Yes,” McConney answered.

The 77-year-old Trump is the first former president to face criminal charges. Prosecutors say the payment to Daniels was to keep her from talking about the alleged affair with Trump just as voters were headed to the polls in 2016.

Trump has denied the charges against him, but if convicted could be placed on probation or sentenced up to four years in prison. He is the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee in the November 5 election, set again to face President Joe Biden, the Democrat who defeated him in 2020.

Trump has also denied Daniels’ claim they had a liaison after they met at a celebrity golf tournament at Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Until Merchan barred him from assailing possible witnesses in the case, Trump often called Daniels “horseface.” He was 60 and she 27 at the time she claims they had sex.

Long-time Trump aide Hope Hicks testified Friday that the 2016 Trump campaign was in a state of panic in October that year, a month before the voting, as a 2005 outtake of the celebrity-driven “Access Hollywood” show was unearthed in which Trump boasted that he could sexually grope women with impunity because he was a star.

The reimbursement payments to Cohen and the fact they were recorded as legal fees are central to the criminal case against Trump.

Prosecutors allege that the hush money payment to Daniels was meant to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, which Trump narrowly won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Trump defense has suggested the hush money payment was Trump’s effort as “a family man” to keep his wife Melania from finding out about his encounter with Daniels.

Hicks testified last week that at one point, Trump suggested to her that Cohen had made the hush money payment to Daniels unbeknownst to him and out of the kindness of his heart.

But Hicks, under questioning from prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, testified, “I would say that would be out of character for Michael. I didn’t know Michael to be an especially charitable person, um, or selfless person. Um, he’s the kind of person who seeks credit.”

Cohen, often depicted in testimony as abrasive, volatile and profane, pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation linked to the case and other offenses. He served 13½ months in a federal prison and another year and a half of home confinement.

He also has turned against his former boss and is seemingly set to tell the jury of his behind-the-scenes interactions over years of loyal work for Trump.

Trump’s defense lawyers are just as certain to brand Cohen as a liar and not to be believed as he testifies.