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Judge fines Trump $9,000, threatens jail in hush money trial

VICTOR J. BLUE/POOL VIA REUTERS
                                Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at Manhattan criminal court, today, in New York. The judge overseeing Trump’s criminal hush money trial fined the former president $9,000 for contempt of court today and said he would consider jailing him if he continued to violate a gag order.
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VICTOR J. BLUE/POOL VIA REUTERS

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at Manhattan criminal court, today, in New York. The judge overseeing Trump’s criminal hush money trial fined the former president $9,000 for contempt of court today and said he would consider jailing him if he continued to violate a gag order.

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial fined the former U.S. president $9,000 for contempt of court today and said he would consider jailing him if he continued to violate a gag order.

In a written order, Justice Juan Merchan said the fine may not be enough to serve as a deterrent for the wealthy businessman-turned-politician and lamented he did not have the authority to impose a higher penalty.

“Defendant is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment,” Merchan wrote.

Merchan had imposed the gag order to prevent Trump from criticizing witnesses and others involved in the case.

The judge fined Trump $1,000 for each of nine online statements that he said violated his order not to criticize witnesses or other participants in the trial. Prosecutors had flagged 10 posts as possible violations.

The posts, made between April 10 and April 17, included an article calling his former lawyer Michael Cohen a “serial liar.” Cohen is expected to be a prominent witness in the trial.

Another post quoted a Fox News pundit who claimed “undercover liberal activists” were trying to sneak onto the jury. Merchan rejected Trump’s argument that he could not be held liable for “reposts” of material he did not write himself.

Merchan will consider whether to impose further penalties for other statements at a hearing on Thursday.

The judge also ordered Trump to remove the statements from his Truth Social account and his campaign website by 2:15 p.m. EDT (1815 GMT).

When asked by reporters to comment on the fine during a break, Trump did not respond.

Trump has argued that the gag order violates his free speech rights, and his lawyer Todd Blanche told Merchan last week that the statements at issue were responses to political attacks.

Merchan noted that Blanche was unable to provide any evidence that the expected witnesses had attacked Trump before he insulted them.

The $9,000 fine, due by Friday, is a relatively small penalty for Trump, who has already posted $266.6 million in bonds as he appeals civil judgments in two other cases.

Imprisonment, however, would be an unprecedented twist in the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

It is unclear whether Trump would be sent to New York City’s jail on Rikers Island or whether security concerns would require more lenient treatment, such as home confinement in his Trump Tower triplex.

Trump, the Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential election is charged with falsifying business records to conceal a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied having sex with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Banker Garry Farro, who is not accused of wrongdoing, testified today that Cohen used a shell company to wire the $130,000 payment to Daniels’ lawyer.

Roughly two dozen Trump supporters rallied outside the courthouse this morning, chanting his name and waving banners that read “TRUMP 24.” A local Republican organization had called for supporters to turn out after Trump complained that few people were protesting the trial.

Trump is required to attend the trial and has said he could instead be campaigning ahead of his rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

The criminal case is one of four pending against Trump, but could be the only one to go to trial and result in a verdict before the election.

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