Expert warns Trump lawyers could face penalties for violating gag order

Donald Trump found himself in a difficult situation during his New York hush-money trial due to his controversial social media posts. Unfortunately, the arguments put forth by his lawyers on Tuesday did little to alleviate the situation.

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan conducted a hearing on Tuesday morning to determine whether to hold Trump in contempt of court for violating his gag order. Trump made posts criticizing potential witnesses and commenting on prospective jurors, which prosecutors argue were willful actions that pose a significant threat to the proceedings. Among the anticipated witnesses are Michael Cohen and adult film actress Stormy Daniels, whose hush-money payment ahead of the 2016 election is central to the Manhattan district attorney’s case.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche argued that the posts in question were “political” and fell under protected speech. Blanche continued to assert this stance even as the judge became increasingly exasperated with his arguments, particularly in relation to Trump’s responses to the witnesses’ attacks.

During the trial, Merchan persistently questioned Blanche, urging her to present concrete instances of the supposed attacks from witnesses. He also reprimanded the defense for their ineffectual argument that sharing others’ attacks does not breach the gag order.

Merchan expressed frustration, emphasizing the lack of evidence to back up the argument. He further pointed out that this lack of support was diminishing the credibility of the court.

According to, Merchan’s reactions to the defense’s arguments suggest that the judge is holding Trump accountable. Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School, expressed her view that the defense’s “just reposting” argument was not convincing.

“It seems that this argument doesn’t hold up for a couple of reasons,” stated the expert. “Firstly, these are not merely reposts. Trump is actually modifying the quotes or providing his own interpretation. Secondly, these actions appear to directly contradict the intentions of the judge’s gag order,” she further explained.

Prosecutors focused their attention on a recent post by Trump where he linked Fox News host Jesse Watters to a claim about “undercover liberal activists” lying to the judge in order to serve on the Trump jury. Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy highlighted Watters’ statement on his show regarding the alleged deception by the activists, while Trump’s post went further to suggest that they were specifically aiming to be selected for his jury.

Merchan did not take the revelation well. He expressed his dissatisfaction by stating, “Your client manipulated what was said and put it in quotes.” Blanche, in response, acknowledged that the post was not a repost. However, she emphasized that it remains uncertain whether it violated the gag order.

According to Levenson, Trump’s alleged manipulation of the post not only revealed his intention to use it for his personal benefit but also indicated his direct involvement in the matter.

David Schultz, a professor of political science and legal studies at Hamline University, believes that the former president is using this trial for political purposes and personal gain. According to him, Trump is feeling frustrated because his litigation and campaigning strategies are not aligning with the court’s expectations.

According to Schultz, Trump has always had a history of being aggressive and attacking his opponents. However, in a judicial proceeding, courts do not tolerate such behavior. Schultz notes that the court is facing a challenge in treating Trump like any other defendant while still giving him more leniency than others in a similar situation.

“In regular situations, attacks like these against the court and violations of a gag order would not be witnessed,” he pointed out.

According to NBC News, Merchan acknowledged on Tuesday morning that Trump’s gag order is more limited in scope compared to completely preventing him from publicly discussing any witness or juror. The order specifically prohibits him from making statements about witnesses in relation to their potential involvement in the investigation or the ongoing criminal proceeding. Additionally, Trump is also barred from commenting about a juror or potential juror in this criminal case.

Prosecutors informed the judge on Tuesday that the former president has persistently violated the order, with the most recent occurrence being on Monday when he made derogatory remarks about Cohen at the courthouse. They requested the judge to instruct Trump to remove the ten offensive posts, impose a $1,000 penalty for each violation, and remind him of the potential consequences of contempt, which in New York can result in a maximum of 30 days in jail.

“We are not currently looking for a prison sentence,” but according to NBC News, Conroy stated on Tuesday morning that the “defendant appears to be trying to achieve that.”

Judge Merchan did not make a ruling on Tuesday morning regarding whether to hold Trump in contempt of court for the alleged violations. It is still unclear when he will make a decision on this matter.

According to Levenson, the decision made by the judge is “extremely intelligent” as it demonstrates his desire to be thorough and cautious in his rulings. He wants to ensure that his orders will stand strong when reviewed by an appellate court.

According to Schultz, Trump’s behavior is undoubtedly contemptuous, raising the question of what sanctions he might face. While he doesn’t anticipate Merchan imprisoning the former president for contempt, the judge could potentially require Trump to relinquish his cell phone and refrain from using his social media accounts, along with imposing a substantial fine.

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According to Schultz, a legal ethics specialist, Trump’s attorneys may potentially face sanctions for their conduct. It is their duty to “manage” their clients, and if they fail to do so, it can hinder their ability to effectively present their case.

According to Schultz, the judge on Tuesday may still be hopeful that the case can proceed as usual and give the Trump defense team another chance to control their client. However, Schultz speculates that Judge Merchan is also indirectly warning the defense that they could face sanctions from his court, a New York disciplinary body, or future rulings that may not be in their favor due to their lack of credibility. This could result in the defense being denied the benefit of the doubt.

Schultz questioned whether the judge would hold the attorney accountable for failing to rein in his client’s disrespectful behavior towards the court and the judicial process. He pondered, “If they are unable to bring him in line, would the judge essentially accuse the attorney of encouraging his client’s disrespect and failing to fulfill his duties as an officer of the court? And if so, would there be sanctions imposed?”

The judge’s ruling is still uncertain, as it is possible that he will classify some of the flagged posts as violating the gag order while others may not. However, Levenson’s message to Trump during the hearing was straightforward and unambiguous.

According to the speaker, the purpose of this hearing was for the court to send a clear message to stop the behavior and to regain control over the proceedings.

Levenson emphasized the importance of integrity in the process, stating, “It’s really about the integrity. This isn’t an ego trip for the judge. They are working diligently to ensure that a difficult trial stays on course.”

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