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Judge Threatens Trump With Jail, Fines Him $1,000 For Disobeying ‘Shut Up’ Order

Former US President Donald Trump has been held in contempt of court for violating a gag order for the 10th time in his hush-money trial in New York.

Justice Juan Merchan issued his most serious warning yet to Trump, saying further violations could mean jail.

“At the end of the day, I have a job to do and that job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system,” the judge said.

This is the second gag order ruling of the trial.

Earlier in the hush-money proceedings, Judge Merchan sided with the prosecution and fined Trump $1,000 (£796) each for nine violations.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal a payment to a porn actress to hide an alleged sexual encounter. He has denied all wrongdoing.

On Monday, the third week of testimony in the first-ever criminal trial of a former president, Justice Merchan said it appeared the $9.000 gag-order fine from the previous infractions had not served as a deterrent.

“Therefore going forward this court will have to consider a jail sanction,” he said. “It is important that you understand that the last thing I want to do is put you in jail.”

Prosecutors said last week they were “not yet seeking jail” for Trump’s alleged gag order violations.

Justice Merchan acknowledged that incarcerating Trump would be very disruptive to the proceedings. But he called the gag order violations “a direct attack on the rule of law” that he cannot abide.

Sitting with a stern expression at the defence table, Trump showed little reaction to the threat of jail.

After court adjourned for the day, Trump called the gag order “disgraceful” and seemed defiant in the face of the warning. “Our Constitution is much more important than jail. It’s not even close. I’ll do that sacrifice any day,” he said later outside the courtroom.

Prosecutors argued last week that Trump’s social media posts, where he suggested the jury is unfair because the area is “95% Democrat”, violated the order.

The former president, a Republican, has repeatedly argued he cannot get a fair trial in overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan.

In Justice Merchan’s written ruling, he said Trump was held in contempt because he made public statements about the jury and how it was selected.

He wrote: “In doing so, the defendant not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones.”

Justice Merchan added: “Defendant is hereby put on notice that if appropriate and warranted, future violations of its lawful orders will be punishable by incarceration.”

In addition to the threat of jail time, Trump was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine by the end of the day on Friday. He also has to take down the offending social media post by 14:15 ET (18:15 GMT) on Monday.

Defence lawyer Todd Blanche had defended Trump, arguing last Thursday that the gag order was unfair.

“Everybody can say whatever they want” about the trial, except for his client, Blanche said.

“They’re not defendants in this case,” Justice Merchan responded. “They’re not subjected to the gag order.”

He pointed out that Trump is allowed to speak. However, as a defendant “there are some things you can’t talk about”, added the judge.

BBC

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