From the Left



Gagging Donald Trump

Susan Estrich on

Back in 2020, the daughter of the judge presiding over Donald Trump's hush money trial in New York worked for a digital advertising firm that was involved in then Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential campaign. According to Trump, that made her a Trump hater and meant that her father should not be permitted to try the case. The judge, Juan Merchan, consulted New York State's Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, which concluded that the case "does not involve either the judge's relative or the relative's business, whether directly or indirectly. They are not parties or likely witnesses in the matter, and none of the parties or counsel before the judge are clients in the business. We see nothing in the inquiry to suggest that the outcome of the case could have any effect on the judge's relative, the relative's business, or any of their interests." The judge refused to recuse himself, and Trump has not stopped attacking him since.

Last week, the judge imposed a limited gag order on Trump, barring him from verbally attacking witnesses, court staff and their families. The order did not mention the judge or judge's family, so Trump took it as a license to go after the judge's daughter. "Maybe the Judge is such a hater because his daughter makes money by working to 'Get Trump,'" he posted last weekend. He used her name in another post, and yet another one linked to an article with pictures of her. He also accused the judge's daughter of using a picture of Trump behind bars as her Twitter profile picture in an account that a spokesperson for the state Office of Court Administration said that someone apparently recreated from a long abandoned account --a "manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned."

In a filing on Monday, the district attorney asked the judge either to clarify that the gag order applied to the family of the court and its staff or to extend it. "There is no constitutional right to target the family of this Court, let alone on the blatant falsehoods that have served as the flimsiest pretexts for defendant's attacks. Defendant knows what he is doing, and everyone else does too," Alvin Bragg's office contended.

In opposing that request, the Trump team characterized the gag order as "an unlawful prior restraint that improperly restricts campaign advocacy by the presumptive Republican nominee and leading candidate in the 2024 presidential election." And they attacked the statement of the court administrator, saying the judge had effectively "weighed in" to the dispute and complaining that the "exceptionally prejudicial pretrial publicity, which is substantial, ongoing, and likely to increase" will prevent him from getting a fair trial in the case. Trump's lawyers asked for an indefinite adjournment of the trial "until prejudicial press coverage abates."

On Monday, the judge rejected Trump's request, making clear that the gag order applies to family members of the judge and refusing to postpone the trial. Attacking a presiding judge's daughter is not "campaign advocacy," not by any stretch. If there is "exceptionally prejudicial pretrial publicity," only one person is responsible for that, and that is Donald Trump. He still doesn't seem to understand anything about the judicial process and the rule of law. He literally has no respect -- not for the judge, not for the prosecutor, not for the judicial process. He has no self-control, or he chooses not to exercise it. He thinks he can win this case the same way he won the primaries -- by bullying and belittling his adversaries and playing by his own set of rules, in which he is beholden to no one, he can defame and lie and play victim, all without penalty. He turned his court appearances into political theatre, and to some extent -- measured by fundraising and primary results -- it worked. But it didn't work with juries, and it didn't work with Judge Roberta Kaplan, who presided over E. Jean Carroll's cases, and it didn't work with Judge Arthur Engoron, who presided over the civil fraud case, and it certainly isn't working with Merchan.


In extending the gag order to apply to family members of the judge and the lawyers in the case, Merchan had harsh words for the former president whose fate is in his hands. Trump's "pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose. It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are 'fair game' for Defendant's vitriol. It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real."

The judge is having no shenanigans. Trump beware.


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