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Hush-money trial: Trump deletes social media posts before gag order hearing later this week

By Paul Godfrey & Chris Benson
Former President Donald Trump waits for his criminal trial to begin at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Tuesday. Merchan gave Trump a $9,000 fine for his nine gag order violations. Pool Photo by Justin Lane/UPI
1 of 7 | Former President Donald Trump waits for his criminal trial to begin at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York on Tuesday. Merchan gave Trump a $9,000 fine for his nine gag order violations. Pool Photo by Justin Lane/UPI | License Photo

April 30 (UPI) -- The jury in Donald Trump's Manhattan hush-money trial left for the day on Tuesday afternoon after hearing from expert witnesses.

On Thursday, a new gag order hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. EDT before the trial resumes later that day. The trial is not in session on Wednesday.

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During Tuesday's session, the former president and current Republican nominee for the presidency was seen leaning back his head and dozing off multiple times.

Also on Tuesday, all nine Truth Social posts referenced in the most recent gag order violation had been removed by 1:24 p.m. local time as per Judge Juan Merchan's ruling.

"This Judge has taken away my Constitutional Right to FREE SPEECH," Trump's new post read after the other posts had been deleted.

"I am the only Presidential Candidate in History to be GAGGED. This whole 'Trial' is RIGGED, and by taking away my FREEDOM OF SPEECH, THIS HIGHLY CONFLICTED JUDGE IS RIGGING THE PRESIDENTIAL OF 2024 ELECTION. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!" the post continued.

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Earlier, the court heard from expert witnesses who had to verify the authenticity of past video clips taken of the former president over the last few years.

Before noon, the prosecutors brought in Dr. Robert Browning, the executive director of the C-SPAN archives for the last 37 years and a professor at Purdue University, to explain to the court how C-SPAN works and he spoke of their "278,000 digital hours to date."

Trump's legal team has denied the authenticity of the clips presented by the prosecution.

The prosecution showed Browning, who came from Indiana, clips of Trump in which he states the current charges against him were either "horribe lies" or "smears" and how he was being "viciously attacked." Browning testified for fewer than 15 minutes, and there was no cross-examination.

"Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He's a good lawyer in my firm," Trump stated in the third clip shown which his legal team contended was not real, among the reasons why the prosecution had to bring in Browning and another witness to testify to its veracity.

The fifth witness to take the stand in the prosecution's case, Phillip Thompson, worked the last eight years for a court reporting company, Esquire Deposition Solutions, and was in court to testify in response to a subpoena for video footage of Trump's Oct. 2022 deposition in the E. Jean Carroll defamation case.

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Thompson, of Texas, testified for just under 20 minutes on the video footage taken which Trump's team did not rebuke that Thompson was forced to testify to its reality. But it is considered unusual for a witness to have to provide testimony on the authenticity of video footage, according to a former Trump Payroll Corporation attorney.

"We're not in the courtroom, we don't know what's going on but it sounds like there's a line in the sand," Bill Brennan, a former Trump employee, told CNN.

He said it is likely there is an unwillingness for both sides to cooperate.

"Makes for a little bit of a longer trial, a little more of a boring trial," he added.

Trump on Tuesday was also held in criminal contempt and slapped with a $9,000 fine by Judge Juan Merchan for nine gag order violations as his trial resumed in the morning hours.

"Defendant violated the Order by making social media posts about known witnesses pertaining to their participation in this criminal proceeding and by making public statements about jurors in this criminal proceeding," the judge's ruling stated.

Trump's punishment was $1,000 for each gag order violation and he was ordered to remove certain social media posts by 2:15 p.m. EDT Tuesday. Merchan had also indicated possible jail time for Trump was not off the table.

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Prosecutors in the case against Trump had flagged other comments Trump made since last week about Cohen and former National Inquirer publisher David Pecker. Merchan scheduled a separate hearing Thursday to address Trump's new comments.

The former president's hush-money trial resumed later Tuesday morning as witness Gary Farro took the stand for the prosecution as week three of the Republican presidential candidate's hush-money trial opened. Farro, who was Michael Cohen's banker, is expected to detail how his client borrowed against his home to pay off Stormy Daniels.

The private client adviser guided jurors through the paper trail for the home equity line of credit Cohen took out in a session explaining documents and banking regulations and processes that prosecutors have warned will feature heavily in the trial.

The prosecution's third witness spent much of Friday talking the jury through the paperwork for a shell company and related bank account Cohen opened in Delaware to pay the National Enquirers's parent company for the rights to a story alleging an affair between Trump and Playboy model Karen McDougal.

The former First Republic managing director testified that no money was transferred to the account in the end, instead detailing records showing Cohen opened an account in October 2016 in the name of a limited liability company called Essential Consultants.

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That company account was allegedly used to wire $130,000 to Daniels to keep quiet about the alleged sexual affair with Trump.

The alleged setting-up by Cohen of two LLCs to facilitate hush-money payments to cover up the alleged extramarital affairs by Trump which it was feared, coming on the heels of the leaking of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, could decimate his chance of winning the presidency, is central to the prosecution's case.

Earlier Friday, the defense took its turn to cross-examine National Enquirer publisher David Pecker who testified he wanted no part in publishing the story about the former president's alleged affair with Daniels but denied it had anything to do with the so-called "catch-and-kill" scheme agreed with Trump in 2015.

Pecker was followed by longtime executive assistant to Trump, Rhona Graff, who testified that while she had seen Daniels in the reception area of 26th of Trump Tower in Manhattan some time before the 2016 election, she believed her presence was to discuss being cast in his NBC reality show The Celebrity Apprentice.

Trump is being tried by the State of New York on 34 counts of falsifying business records. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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