How Trump could talk himself into a gag order
Six hours after a New York judge warned former President Trump he could be penalized for any remarks that endangered others, Trump stepped to a microphone in Florida — and practically dared the judge to do just that.
- "I have a Trump-hating judge," Trump said in a barrage of insults aimed at Judge Juan Merchan, the judge's family, Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg and more.
Why it matters: The scene late Tuesday showed that the kind of personal attacks Trump is known for in politics could cause trouble — for him and the court — in his trial on 34 felony counts in New York.
- It also raised a crucial question as Trump's dance with Manhattan's legal system begins: If he keeps up the rhetoric, at what point might Merchan step in with a gag order?
No one wants to restrict the speech of a presidential candidate during a campaign. But Trump often has courted chaos, figuring he's at his best on a muddied playing field.
- "There is no court that would want to impose a gag order on a president of the United States," J. Michael Luttig, a former federal judge and lawyer who advised former Vice President Pence, told Axios.
- But "if the former president forces the Manhattan criminal court, the court will have no choice.”
Driving the news: During Trump's arraignment, Merchan told Trump's team and prosecutors to "refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence and civil unrest."
- Trump was somber in court, but after flying back to Mar-a-Lago he unleashed a rambling, bitter attack that singled out Merchan and his family — hours after Trump's elder son, Don Jr., had tweeted a story with a photo of Merchan's daughter.
- Trump called Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg "a criminal." In social media posts before the arraignment, he had called Bragg an "animal" who "doesn't care about right or wrong."
- Trump railed on Jack Smith, the special counsel leading the Justice Department's probe into Trump's handling of classified documents, calling him "a radical-left lunatic known as a bomb thrower."
- He also called Fulton County, Georgia, prosecutor Fani Willis “a local racist Democrat district attorney”. Willis is weighing whether to charge Trump for allegedly trying to overturn Georgia's 2020 election results.
Zoom in: Trump's performance led legal minds to debate when he might cross Merchan's line in the sand on rhetoric.
- "A gag order is used to protect the defendants' rights to a fair trial and also the government's rights to a fair trial, so that the potential jurors don't learn anything about the case that they're not going to learn in court," said Mike Scotto, a criminal defense lawyer and former Rackets Bureau Chief for the Manhattan DA.
- During Tuesday's hearing, Trump attorney Todd Blanche explained that Trump's previous rants on social media were because he was "upset" and "frustrated" by the New York case.
- "I don't share your view that certain language is justified by frustration," Merchan said.
State of play: Prosecutors are working with Trump's attorneys on a protective order to prevent Trump from sharing discovery materials on social media or with third parties.
Flashback: Trump ally Roger Stone was gagged by a federal judge in 2019 after he made an Instagram post of the judge’s head next to crosshairs.
- Stone mused on Fox News before Tuesday's arraignment that a gag order on Trump would be "a testimony to his effectiveness as a counter-puncher."