Hush-money trial: Judge to rule next week on Trump's alleged gag order violation

By Joe Fisher & Chris Benson
Former President Donald Trump appeared in court Monday for a hush-money trial in New York as he becomes the first former president to go on criminal trial. Pool Photo by Angela Weiss/UPI
1 of 7 | Former President Donald Trump appeared in court Monday for a hush-money trial in New York as he becomes the first former president to go on criminal trial. Pool Photo by Angela Weiss/UPI | License Photo

April 15 (UPI) -- Donald Trump was in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday for the start of the criminal trial against him over alleged hush money payments made to an adult film actress.

The former president has pleaded not guilty to all charges as jury selection began in the court of Judge Juan Merchan.


More than half of the 96 potential jurors were quickly dismissed, with many signifying that they would be unable to serve. Many raised their hands when asked to identify themselves as being unable to be impartial.

Before adjourning for a break in the early afternoon, the prosecution had asked Merchan to sanction Trump for allegedly violating Merchan's gag order through Trump's own weekend social media posts.

Next week, Merchan will rule on the gag order sanction request that seeks for Trump to be fined $1,000 for each post that allegedly violate the gag order. A hearing over the request was set for April 24 but Merchan moved it up a day to April 23.


But Trump's defense attorney Todd Blanche -- who has until Friday to present a written response -- said he believes the former president's words do not violate the gag order.

"It's not as if President Trump is going off and targeting individuals," Blanche said in court. "(Trump's) responding to salacious repeated ... attacks by these witnesses."

After nine potential jurors had gone through their questionnaires by late afternoon, Merchan adjourned court for the day.

Earlier Monday morning, Merchan had denied a pair of motions by Trump's lawyers requesting that he recuse himself from the case, citing past interview comments and the fact that his daughter works with a Democrat-affiliated firm.

"There is no basis for recusal," Merchan said, adding the motions amounted to "a series of inferences, innuendos and unsupported speculation."

Trump is accused of making hush-money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in an attempt to cover up an affair. He is also charged with falsifying records to hide the payments made when he campaigned for the presidency in 2016 and into his first term as president.

Merchan also ruled Monday the audio and video of Trump's lewd comments about groping women on Access Hollywood would not be admitted to the court but that text of Trump's words from the tape could be read aloud.


Prosecutors had argued the comments featured in the tape were necessary to provide jurors full understanding of the case, while Trump attorney Todd Blanche, argued the video was "extremely salacious evidence that's very, very, very prejudicial."

Trump is the first former president to go on criminal trial, facing 34 felony charges from an alleged hush-money scheme.

Trump has meanwhile already launched tirades against Merchan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, Michael Cohen and Daniels as well as Merchan's daughter. This led to Merchan issuing a gag order against Trump and later expanding it to bar him from making comments about those involved in the trial and their families. This includes prosecutors and potential witnesses.

Merchan noted Trump's "harassing comments" about Cohen and Daniels when he asked the court to allow them to testify.

Trump again spoke out against the gag order hours before leaving for the courthouse, calling the trial "rigged." He made several more posts criticizing Merchan, Bragg and Cohen.

"I want my VOICE back," Trump wrote on Truth Social. "This Crooked Judge has GAGGED me. Unconstitutional! The other side can talk about me, but I am not allowed to talk about them! Rigged Trial!"


Merchan listed dozens more people who may be involved in the trial, including members of Trump's family, his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, former aide Hope Hicks and former White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Trump's rhetoric has led to threats against judges and prosecutors in multiple cases. Bragg increased security at his office following the indictment last April.

Trump and others allegedly carried out a "catch and kill" scheme to suppress stories about him during the 2016 election cycle. This included purchasing negative stories about him and burying them.

Charges related to falsifying business records are commonly misdemeanor offenses but they can be enhanced to felony charges if the act is done to cover up or commit another crime.

The trial will include testimony from Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, as well as Trump's former attorney Cohen.

Cohen was allegedly Trump's "fixer" who arranged the $130,000 in hush-money payments to Daniels. Trump is accused of falsely designating payments made to Cohen for nine months beginning in April 2017 as legal fees.

Trump's attorneys have attempted to quash Cohen's testimony and discredit him before he takes the stand. They asked the court to block Cohen's testimony because he is "a liar," saying he previously committed perjury.


Cohen has not been convicted of perjury, but he was accused by Trump attorney Alina Habba during the civil trial of Trump and the Trump Organization last fall.

"We have spent three years doing this, based on testimony from Michael Cohen, who walked into that courtroom, and under oath and open court admitted that he perjured himself," Habba said of Cohen's testimony in that trial.

Trump also wanted to keep Daniels from testifying, but Merchan ruled her testimony is necessary.

Trump is accused of paying $30,000 to a doorman at Trump Tower who claimed to have a story about Trump having a child out of wedlock. A second woman Trump allegedly had a sexual relationship with was paid $150,000.

Bragg brought the indictment of Trump a year ago. It was the first criminal indictment of a former president in history.

Trump's defense has undertaken multiple efforts to delay the trial. Most recently, Trump attempted to have the trial moved out of Manhattan, arguing that he could not receive a fair trial there. His team cited the publicity surrounding the case.

Bragg argued in his rebuttal that Trump has brought on the publicity himself.

The appellate court denied the appeal, quashing a late attempt to delay the trial further.


Last month, Merchan agreed to delay the trial for one month to allow Trump's defense to review new discovery materials submitted by Bragg's office. The decision followed Trump's request for a delay of up to 90 days.

Bragg was also agreeable to the one-month delay.

Donald Trump's historic indictment

Former President Donald Trump speakes to the media and supporters after returning to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 4, 2023. Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

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