Judge denies Trump’s attempt to lift gag order so he can ‘respond’ to Stormy Daniels testimony

Judge Merchan also denies another mistrial motion after prosecutors argue the adult film star’s ‘messy details’ are crucial to the motive behind the hush money scheme

Mike Bedigan,Alex Woodward
Thursday 09 May 2024 23:42 BST
Related video: Trump speaks to reporters outside court

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial in New York has shot down his latest attempt to lift a gag order after his legal team argued he should be able to respond to testimony from adult film star Stormy Daniels.

New York Justice Juan Merchan said he was not only concerned about attacks against Ms Daniels and other witnesses but with “protecting the integrity of these proceedings as a whole.”

The order is in effect “precisely because of the nature of these attacks, the vitriol,” he said on Thursday.

“These were real, very threatening attacks on these witnesses,” he added.

Mr Trump’s attorneys filed the motion on Thursday after Ms Daniels returned to the witness stand face more cross-examination from defense attorney Susan Necheles, who repeatedly accused her of lying and using her story to profit from Mr Trump’s criminal case.

Her testimony followed Tuesday’s vivid account of her alleged sexual encounter with Mr Trump in 2006, including details that even the judge deemed unnecessary.

After she left the courtroom on Thurdsay, Mr Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche argued that the gag order should be amended so that Mr Trump can “respond” to her testimony.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy accused the defense team of living “in an almost alternate reality.”

Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying at former US President Donald Trump’s trial on 9 May
Stormy Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying at former US President Donald Trump’s trial on 9 May (AFP via Getty Images)

“There is a proceeding here that this order is designed to protect. It’s important to underscore why it was issued in the first place to put in context,” he said, adding that the former president was predisposed to firing off comments “indiscriminately against anyone he deems worthy of his venom.”

Changing the gag order in the middle of a trial would “say to future witnesses that they could be at risk as well,” Mr Conroy said.

Modifying the gag order would allow Mr Trump to “attack” Ms Daniels, not open the door for “serious discourse,” he said.

Judge Merchan was skeptical of Mr Trump’s team’s claims that parts of Ms Daniels’ testimony were new or inconsistent.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, right, argued on Wednesday that the former president’s gag order should be modified so that he could ‘respond’ to testimony by Stormy Daniel
Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, right, argued on Wednesday that the former president’s gag order should be modified so that he could ‘respond’ to testimony by Stormy Daniel (AP)

The judge also rejected the defense’s second attempt to declare a mistrial in the case, arguing – unsuccessfully – that Ms Daniels’ testimony was unfairly prejudicial.

Mr Blanche accused prosecutors of blowing a “dogwhistle for rape” by allowing Ms Daniels to claim that Mr Trump did not wear a condom when thet had sex.

“Blanche complains that the details are messy … Those details about what happened in that room, those messy details – that is motive, that is Mr Trump’s motive to silence this woman in 2016 less than a month before the election,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said.

“That is why Mr Trump tried so hard to prevent the American people from hearing about this.”

A courtroom sketch depicts Stormy Daniels testifying during Donald Trump’s hush money trial on 9 May.
A courtroom sketch depicts Stormy Daniels testifying during Donald Trump’s hush money trial on 9 May. (REUTERS)

The latest furore over the gag order comes just days after Judge Merchan threatened to throw the former president in jail if he continues to violate the gag order.

On Monday, while handing down the 10th penalty to date, the judge told Mr Trump that jail remains “truly a last resort” that would disrupt the proceedings, court staff and law enforcement.

“The magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me,” judge Merchan said.

“But at the end of the day I have a job to do, and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the justice system,” he said. “Your continued violations … threaten to interfere with the administration of justice, and constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

Mr Trump was found in contempt of court and fined $1,000 for his comments about the jury, on the heels of last week’s contempt ruling and a $9,000 fine for nine other violations of the protective order.

The former president was also ordered to remove any offending posts from his social media platform, Truth Social, and content from his campaign website.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records by concealing reimbursements to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who wired $130,000 to Ms Daniels to buy her silence in the crucial weeks before the 2016 presidential election.

Alex Woodward reports from inside Manhattan criminal court

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