Judge in hush money case expands Trump's limited gag order

Trump has repeatedly targeted the judge's daughter on social media.

April 1, 2024, 9:26 PM

The judge in Donald Trump's criminal hush money case has expanded his limited gag order on the former president to cover the family members of the judge and the district attorney, following a request by prosecutors.

The limited gag order now covers the family members of District Attorney Alvin Bragg and Judge Juan Merchan, after Trump targeted Merchan's daughter repeatedly on social media over her work with a group involved in Democratic politics.

Last week, Judge Merchan issued a limited gag order prohibiting Trump from making comments about potential witnesses in the case, as well as jurors, lawyers, court staff, and their families. The order permitted Trump to continue making public comments about both Merchan and Bragg.

On Monday, prosecutors asked Merchan to clarify whether the limited gag order he issued last week applies to the judge's family and relatives of Bragg.

In his ruling late Monday, Merchan wrote that "The Defendant has a constitutional right to speak to the American voters freely, and to defend himself publicly." However, the judge pointed to the "singular power" Trump's words have on countless others and the "grave concern" prosecutors said witnesses have expressed about participating in the trial, set to begin April 15.

"The threats to the integrity of the judicial proceeding are no longer limited to the swaying of minds but on the willingness of individuals both private and public to perform their lawful duty before this Court," Merchan said. "It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is real."

In a statement issued in response to the ruling, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said, "Judge Merchan's unconstitutional Gag Order prevents President Trump -- the leading candidate for President of the United States -- from engaging in core political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment."

PHOTO: In this Nov. 15, 2022, file photo, former President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home, in Palm Beach, Fla.
In this Nov. 15, 2022, file photo, former President Donald Trump leaves the stage after speaking during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images, FILE

Merchan's ruling followed a letter to the court on Friday in which the district attorney's office said Trump's attacks on the judge's daughter are making other witnesses gravely concerned about their safety.

"Defendant's dangerous, violent, and reprehensible rhetoric fundamentally threatens the integrity of these proceedings and is intended to intimidate witnesses and trial participants alike -- including this Court," prosecutors wrote in the new filing Monday. They're seeking a clarifying order from the judge and a directive that Trump "immediately desist from attacks on family members."

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Defense attorneys argued Monday he should be allowed to continue to address those issues.

"President Trump must be permitted to speak on these issues in a manner that is consistent with his position as the leading presidential candidate and his defense, which is not intended to materially interfere with these proceedings or cause harm to anyone," the defense said in their response to the district attorney's filing.

The defense also sought permission to file a motion requesting Merchan recuse himself from the trial.

"Your Honor's daughter is an executive and partner at Authentic Campaigns, Inc. As recently as February and March 2024, Authentic has used social media to market its connections to President Biden and Vice President Harris while deriding President Trump," defense attorneys Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles wrote.

"The trial in this case will benefit Authentic financially by providing its clients more fodder for fundraising, Authentic will make more money by assisting with those communications, and Your Honor's daughter will continue to earn money from these developments by virtue of her senior role at Authentic."

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to get underway April 15 in New York City.

ABC News' Soo Rin Kim and Lalee Ibssa contributed to this report.

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