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After Trump attacks hush money judge’s daughter, DA seeks broader gag order

NEW YORK — The prosecutor in Donald Trump’s upcoming hush money trial has asked the judge to clarify whether a gag order issued for the former president this week bars him from publicly attacking the judge’s adult daughter — and to expand the order if it doesn’t.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg made the request after social media posts by Trump attacking the daughter of New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan for her professional affiliations with Democratic candidates and politicians.

As Trump’s April 15 trial date nears, he and his advocates insist Merchan is influenced by his daughter’s job and her ties to Democrats.

Bragg’s office wrote in a letter filed Thursday and unsealed Friday that in light of the attacks, the judge “should make abundantly clear that the [gag order] protects family members of the Court, the District Attorney, and all other individuals mentioned in the Order.”

It also said that Merchan should “warn [Trump] that his recent conduct is contumacious and direct him to immediately desist” and that ignoring the warning should warrant sanctions.

On Tuesday, Merchan barred Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, from discussing trial witnesses, prosecutors and others involved in the case, saying that his record of “prior extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice.”

Trump attorneys have repeatedly argued that any limitation on his speech is a clear violation of his First Amendment rights and his rights as a presidential candidate.

In a letter Friday responding to Bragg’s request, defense lawyers Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche said Merchan’s gag order does not apply to comments about the judge’s family members and Trump’s recent posts had not violated the order.

Merchan can’t order Trump “to do something that the gag order does not require,” the lawyers wrote, adding that they would be entitled to a hearing if the judge is inclined to broaden the order.

Trump has been partially gagged in other cases, including his federal election-interference indictment in Washington D.C. and a civil fraud case overseen by another New York judge, Arthur Engoron, whose law clerk and staff received a flood of threats and harassing messages after Trump posted a photo and false information about the clerk online.

Trump’s trial in front of Merchan is expected to span roughly two months and will be the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president. He is charged with falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment during the 2016 presidential race to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a sexual liaison with Trump years earlier.

The former president has three other pending indictments — the D.C. election-obstruction case, a state-level election obstruction case in Georgia and a federal case in Florida that accuses him of improperly retaining classified documents and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all 88 counts he faces.

Merchan’s daughter was previously cited by Trump’s lawyers as an issue in the hush money case, when they argued that Merchan should recuse himself because of her ties to Democratic campaigns and because the judge appeared to have donated $15 to President Biden in 2020 and made two $10 contributions to Democratic-aligned organizations.

In a statement Friday, Richard Lewis, who heads the New York State Bar Association, decried Trump’s recent rhetoric, saying “we must condemn in no uncertain terms the unfounded attack on Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and his family.”

“All judges must be free to decide cases and issue rulings without fear for their safety or that of their family,” Lewis added. “While they cannot speak out to protect themselves, we can, and we will. Our system of justice depends on it.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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