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Donald Trump fined $9,000 for violating gag order in hush money case

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump in court on Tuesday, April 30
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters via CNN Newsource
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump in court on Tuesday, April 30

By Kara Scannell, Lauren del Valle, Jeremy Herb and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) — New York Judge Juan Merchan has fined former President Donald Trump for repeatedly violating the gag order in the hush money trial.

Merchan ruled Trump violated the gag order nine times for criticizing expected trial witnesses in posts on social media and his campaign page. Trump must pay the $9,000 fine by the end of the week.

Merchan also threatened incarceration if Trump willfully violates the gag order again, writing in his ruling, “THEREFORE, Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

Trump did not visibly react as the judge was reading his decision in court.

Trump on Tuesday afternoon removed the seven “offending posts” from Truth Social and the two “offending posts” from his campaign website, as Merchan ordered.

Reposts are endorsements, judge says

In last week’s hearing on gag order violations, Trump’s defense argued that reposts of other people’s words do not violate the gag order and that the posts represent protected political speech in response to attacks.

Merchan rejected both arguments in his contempt ruling Tuesday.

First, he found that reposts are, in this case, endorsements.

“There can be no doubt whatsoever, that Defendant’s intent and purpose when reposting, is to communicate to his audience that he endorses and adopts the posted statement as his own,” Merchan wrote.

Second, Merchan acknowledged that the gag order does allow Trump to respond to political attacks, but said criticisms of key witnesses were not allowed.

“To allow such attacks upon protected witnesses with blanket assertions that they are all responses to ‘political attacks’ would be an exception that swallowed the rule. The Expanded Order does not contain such an exception,” he wrote.

Prosecutors had asked Merchan to hold Trump in contempt for violating the gag order, citing 10 social media posts from before and during the trial where the district attorney’s office accused Trump of violating the judge’s restrictions barring Trump from commenting on witnesses and jurors. They also want the posts taken down.

Prosecutors cited Trump’s comments about Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels and the makeup of the jury pool.

The judge made the ruling after a hearing last week that, at times, got heated between him and Trump’s defense attorney Todd Blanche.

Prosecutors have subsequently flagged an additional four comments that Trump has made since last week’s hearing, including about Cohen and former AMI chief David Pecker, who testified last week. Merchan has scheduled another hearing on Thursday to address those comments.

$1,000 per violation is the maximum allowed by New York State law.

This is the first sanction against Trump for violating the gag order in this case.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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