Donald Trump assails judge and his daughter after gag order in New York hush-money criminal case

Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday at the New York judge who put him under a gag order that bars him from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors in his upcoming hush-money criminal trial.

The former president posted on social media that the gag order was “illegal, un-American, unConstitutional” and said Judge Juan M. Merchan was “wrongfully attempting to deprive me of my First Amendment Right to speak out against the Weaponization of Law Enforcement" by Democratic rivals.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee also laid into Merchan's daughter, a Democratic political consultant, noting that she had posted a photo on social media of him behind bars. An account appearing to belong to Loren Merchan on X, formerly known as Twitter, has a photo illustration of an imprisoned Trump as its profile picture. Loren Merchan's consulting firm had linked to that account in a previous social media post.

The gag order does not bar comments about Merchan or his family, nor does it prohibit Trump from criticizing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the elected Democrat whose office is prosecuting him.

Messages seeking comment were left with Judge Merchan, Loren Merchan and a court spokesperson. Bragg's office declined to comment on the gag order.

Trump's post on Truth Social was his first reaction to the gag order, which Merchan issued on Tuesday, a day after he scheduled the trial to begin on April 15. Hours before the judge's ruling, Trump had referred to Merchan in a Truth Social post as a “very distinguished looking man” and a “true and certified Trump Hater.”

Merchan's order cited Trump's history of “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” remarks about people involved in his legal cases in granting the prosecution’s request for what it deemed a “narrowly tailored” gag order.

Though not covered by the gag order, Merchan referenced Trump's various comments about him as an example of his rhetoric. The restrictions mirror ones imposed and largely upheld by a federal appeals court panel in Trump’s Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case.

Trump’s lawyers had fought a gag order, warning it would amount to unconstitutional and unlawful prior restraint on his free speech rights — an argument echoed by Trump in his Truth Social post.

Merchan had long resisted imposing a gag order, recognizing Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate and not wanting to trample his ability to defend himself publicly. But, he said, as the trial nears, he found that his obligation to ensuring the integrity of the case outweighs First Amendment concerns. He said Trump's statements have induced fear and necessitated added security measures to protect his targets and investigate threats.

“So, let me get this straight," Trump wrote on Truth Social, "the Judge's daughter is allowed to post pictures of her ‘dream’ of putting me in jail, the Manhattan D.A. is able to say whatever lies about me he wants, the Judge can violate our Laws and Constitution at every turn, but I am not allowed to talk about the attacks against me, and the Lunatics trying to destroy my life and prevent me from winning the 2024 Presidential Election, which I am dominating?”

“Maybe the Judge is such a hater because his daughter makes money by working to ‘Get Trump’ and when he rules against me over and over again, he is making her company, and her, richer and richer," Trump continued. "How can this be allowed?”

Trump also accused President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland and their “Hacks and Thugs” of “tracking and following me all across the Country, obsessively trying to persecute me, while everyone knows I have done nothing wrong.”

The gag order bars Trump from either making or directing other people to make public statements on his behalf about hush-money trial jurors and potential witnesses, such as his lawyer turned nemesis Michael Cohen and porn star Stormy Daniels. It also prohibits any statements meant to interfere with or harass the court’s staff, prosecution team or their families.

A violation could result in Trump being held in contempt of court, fined or even jailed.

Trump’s hush-money case centers on allegations that he falsely logged payments to Cohen, then his personal lawyer, as legal fees in his company’s books when they were for his work during the 2016 campaign covering up negative stories about Trump. That included $130,000 Cohen paid Daniels on Trump’s behalf so she wouldn’t publicize her claim of a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last April to 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, though there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in jail time. He denies having sex with Daniels and his lawyers have said that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not part of any coverup.

Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press