Berliner Tageblatt - Prosecutors accuse Trump of 'willful' violations of gag order

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Prosecutors accuse Trump of 'willful' violations of gag order
Prosecutors accuse Trump of 'willful' violations of gag order / Photo: © GETTY IMAGES/AFP

Prosecutors accuse Trump of 'willful' violations of gag order

Prosecutors on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of brazenly violating a gag order imposed by the judge presiding over his "hush money" trial to prevent him from intimidating witnesses.

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"His attacks on witnesses clearly violate the order," prosecutor Chris Conroy told Judge Juan Merchan at a hearing called to determine whether the former president should be held in contempt of court.

"He knows about the order, he knows what he's not allowed to do, and he does it anyway," Conroy said. "His disobedience of the order is willful, it's intentional."

Trump, 77, is charged with falsifying business records to buy the silence of porn star Stormy Daniels over a 2006 sexual encounter that could have impacted his 2016 presidential bid.

Prosecution witnesses are expected to include Daniels and Trump's former fixer Michael Cohen, who arranged the alleged payment to the adult film actress.

Merchan imposed a partial gag order on the Republican presidential candidate earlier in the case ordering him not to publicly attack witnesses, jurors and court staff but Trump has repeatedly lashed out.

On his Truth Social platform, Trump called Cohen and Daniels, for example, "two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our country dearly."

The hearing comes a day after the jury heard opening arguments in Trump's hush money case, with prosecutors placing him at the center of a criminal conspiracy while his defense team insisted he was "cloaked in innocence."

The case is the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president -- and is already impacting Trump's November White House bid since he's unable to ditch court for the campaign trail.

In addition to comments about Cohen and Daniels, Trump has also made statements about the jury, which the prosecution has added to their original complaint on the gag order violation.

Cited in the supplemental complaint is another Truth Social post, where Trump quoted Fox News commentator Jesse Watters as alleging that "undercover liberal activists (are) lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury."

Trump's lawyers say the gag order violates the former president's free speech rights.

- Jury intimidation concerns -

Merchan has already scolded Trump to his face after he was muttering loud enough during jury selection to be heard by prospective jurors and gesturing animatedly.

Jurors will remain anonymous to the public during the trial.

A finding that Trump is in contempt of court could potentially land the ex-president in jail, setting up a conflict with the Secret Service, the federal policing body charged with protecting Trump and all living presidents.

Even if a fine is a much more likely punishment, Trump has said it would be a "great honor" to be jailed.

On Monday, lawyers from both sides laid out their opening arguments in the case, with prosecutors alleging Trump engaged in a multi-layered conspiracy of fraud and cover-ups.

"It was election fraud, pure and simple," Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo told the jury.

"President Trump did not commit any crimes," Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche countered.

David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer, was the first witness called by the prosecution and he is due back in court on Tuesday.