A judge in the New York hush-money case prohibited former President Donald Trump from publicly disclosing "any news on social media platforms, including, but not limited, to Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, without prior approval from the court." Photo by John Nacion/UPI | License Photo
May 9 (UPI) -- A New York judge has barred former President Donald Trump from posting evidence on social media about the criminal case in which he faces 34 felony charges related to falsifying records in a hush-money scheme.
Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Juan Merchan granted the protective order Monday -- requested by the Manhattan District Attorney's office -- that restricts what Trump can say online about any new information he gleans through his attorneys before his trial is expected to begin next spring.
The judge's order prohibits the former president from publicly disclosing "any news on social media platforms, including, but not limited to, Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat or YouTube, without prior approval from the court."
The order, which comes as state prosecutors were preparing to turn over new evidence in the case to the defense, restricts Trump's team from copying, disseminating or disclosing sensitive materials to any third parties.
Prosecutors also called for Trump to be allowed to review "Limited Dissemination Materials" from prosecutors only in the presence of his lawyers and "shall not be permitted to copy, photograph, transcribe, or otherwise independently possess the Limited Dissemination Materials."
As part of the order, Trump will be blocked from viewing "forensic images of witness cellphones." His lawyers can show him "approved portions" of the evidence but only after getting permission from the judge.
The order comes more than a month after Trump pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment, after which he lashed out in several social media posts about Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the charges, while also mentioning key witnesses in the case against him.
"Donald J. Trump has a longstanding and perhaps singular history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, trial jurors, grand jurors, judges and others involved in legal proceedings against him, putting those individuals and their families at considerable safety risk," Bragg's office argued in an April court filing.
Prosecutors pleaded with the judge for more "safeguards that will protect the integrity" of the evidence, while noting the "substantial risk" for Trump to misuse it and hurt the case.
During a hearing last week, prosecutors spelled out the terms of the protective order to Trump's attorneys, including a requirement that Trump be kept from viewing some evidence like that gathered from the cellphone of his former attorney Michael Cohen.
Trump's attorneys argued the order was "extremely restrictive" but failed to convince Merchan that the former president's First Amendment rights were being violated as a 2024 candidate.
After the hearing, Trump's legal team filed a motion to move the trial to federal court, arguing Trump's alleged crimes had occurred while he was president.
On Monday, Bragg's office filed a request for a hearing that would determine how to forward the motion to U.S. district court, which Trump's team agreed to.
The Manhattan district attorney's office also noted that moving the case to federal court would not interrupt business as usual in the state court.
"An early case conference to set a schedule and procedures for prompt resolution of the notice of removal will therefore minimize disruption to New York's 'traditional state authority' to punish 'local criminal activity,'" the district attorney's office wrote in its filing.
After Trump became first U.S. president to be arraigned on criminal charges, the Manhattan district attorney's office requested the protective order over all discovery materials in the case due to Trump's tirade on social media.
Christopher Conroy, the executive assistant district attorney, also criticized Trump for threatening emails and social-media posts against his office, the courts and New York City, but Merchan declined to issue a gag order against Trump or his legal team regarding the details of the case.
The indictment accuses Trump of falsifying business records in a conspiracy to bury information that had potential to hurt his bid for president in 2016.
To do so, Trump and others allegedly executed a "catch and kill" scheme to purchase and bury any negative stories about him in the tabloid media.
Each count against Trump reflects 34 false statements he allegedly made on New York state business records, which were falsified to help Trump avoid any pitfalls as he ran for president, Bragg said previously.
Falsifying business records is typically a misdemeanor offense, but the charge can be elevated to a felony if there was intent to cover up or commit another crime.
Cohen, who had cemented himself as Trump's longtime "fixer," appeared before Congress in 2019 and provided evidence of the misrepresented payments used to pay off former adult film star Stormy Daniels to silence her about an alleged sexual affair with Trump.
The indictment claims 11 checks were issued by Trump for "phony purposes," including nine that were signed by Trump, and included payments that were made from Trump's trust and personal bank account while he was in the White House.
Merchan previously indicated that opening arguments would begin in February or March 2024.
Trump, meanwhile, has also found himself in hot water over his Truth Social posts condemning the civil trial in which he is accused of raping writer E. Jean Carroll in a New York department store nearly 30 years ago.
In late April, Trump blasted the trial as a "made up SCAM" and a "fraudulent and false story," prompting Judge Lewis Kaplan to warn Trump's actions could constitute contempt of court.
The judge suggested more severe "remedies" might be necessary and urged Trump's attorneys to have "a conversation with the client" before the trial continued.