CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Judge finds Trump in contempt for 10th time over gag order and threatens jail

May 6, 2024, 9:02 AM | Updated: 3:11 pm

Former President Donald Trump speaks with the media at Manhattan Supreme Court during the proceedin...

Former President Donald Trump speaks with the media at Manhattan Supreme Court during the proceedings in his criminal trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York, New York, Friday, May, 3, 2024. Judge Juan Merchan has found former President Donald Trump in contempt for violating the gag order in his hush money trial for the 10th time. (Curtis Means/Pool/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

(Curtis Means/Pool/Reuters via CNN Newsource)

Originally Published: 06 MAY 24 09:53 ET
Updated: 06 MAY 24 10:44 ET

(CNN) — Judge Juan Merchan has found former President Donald Trump in contempt for violating the gag order in his hush money trial for the 10th time and said he will consider jail time going forward.

“Going forward, this court will have to consider a jail sanction,” Merchan said Monday.

“Mr. Trump, it’s important you understand, the last thing I want to do is put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States and possibly the next president as well,” Merchan said.

“The magnitude of this decision is not lost on me, but at the end of the day I have a job to do,” the judge added. “So as much as I don’t want to impose a jail sanction … I want you to understand that I will if necessary and appropriate.”

Merchan fined Trump $1,000 for the violation and ordered he pay the fine by Friday. Last week, the judge fined Trump $9,000 for nine previous violations of the judge’s gag order.

Violations of the gag order are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, by jail time of up to 30 days, or both.

The gag order blocks the defendant from speaking out about potential witnesses and most people in or associated with the court or the New York district attorney’s office.

The contempt order comes several weeks into Trump’s hush money trial in New York. Prosecutors have accused Trump of 34 counts of falsifying business records for allegedly hiding the way Michael Cohen was reimbursed for paying $130,000 to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to keep her quiet before the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied the affair.

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung called the gag order “unconstitutional and un-American” and criticized the judge and his ruling.

“President Trump has not violated this wrongful edict by a partisan operative,” he said. “The threat to throw the 45th President of the United States and the leading candidate in the 2024 Presidential Election in jail for exercising his First Amendment rights is a Third World authoritarian tactic typical of Crooked Joe Biden and his comrades.”

Possible options for the judge

CNN legal analyst Karen Friedman Agnifilo says Merchan has options that don’t involve putting Trump in prison. For instance, he could start with a short amount of time in detention in the courthouse.

“He has several options: for example, he could put him in for a few hours. There is a holding cell behind the courtroom,” she said.

“He could put him in for the day. He could put him in over lunch. He could do it like that, as a graduated step towards putting him in overnight.”

Trump spoke about the makeup of the jury

The contempt ruling Monday found Trump violated the gag order for his comments about the makeup of the jury in this case.

Trump’s comments came in an April 22 interview with a program called “Just the News No Noise” on Real America’s Voice. “You know [the judge is] rushing the trial like crazy. Nobody’s ever seen a thing go like this. That jury was picked so fast — 95% Democrats. The area’s mostly all Democrat. You think of it as a — just a purely Democrat area. It’s a very unfair situation that I can tell you,” Trump said.

In a written ruling, the judge said those comments violated the gag order.

“Defendant violated the Order by making public statements about the jury and how it was selected,” Merchan wrote. “In doing so, 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.”

The ruling also makes clear the possibility of jail time going forward.

“(B)ecause this is now the tenth time that this Court has found Defendant in criminal contempt, spanning three separate motions, it is apparent that monetary fines have not, and will not, suffice to deter Defendant from violating this Court’s lawful orders,” Merchan wrote. “THEREFORE, Defendant is hereby put on notice that if appropriate and warranted, future violations of its lawful orders will be punishable by incarceration.”

Other comments didn’t violate gag order

Prosecutors had alleged Trump violated the gag order on four separate occasions, including once about the jury, once about David Pecker and twice about Michael Cohen. The judge ruled that the three other comments did not violate the order.

“Under the circumstances here, this Court cannot find beyond a reasonable doubt that the statement in question constituted a veiled threat to Mr. Pecker or to other witnesses,” the judge ruled.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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Judge finds Trump in contempt for 10th time over gag order and threatens jail