Manhattan DA asks judge in Trump's hush money case to 'clarify or confirm' that gag order applies to family members

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office this week asked a judge presiding over the New York criminal case against Donald Trump to “clarify or confirm” that his earlier order restricting the former president’s public statements about the case and those involved applies to family members.

In a letter to New York State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan dated Thursday and acknowledged as received by the court on Friday, prosecutors said that potential trial witnesses and prospective jurors were likely to fear attacks that could extend to their families after Trump on Wednesday blasted Merchan as “biased and conflicted” and took aim at his daughter for a social media post that a court spokesperson said was wrongly attributed to her.

“As a result, this Court should make abundantly clear that the March 26 Order protects family members of the Court, the District Attorney, and all other individuals mentioned in the Order. Furthermore, the Court should warn defendant that his recent conduct is contumacious and direct him to immediately desist,” they wrote.

Prosecutors said that if Trump continues to defy orders, he should face sanctions.

Trump’s attorneys responded in opposition in their own letter on Friday, arguing that the “express terms of the gag order do not apply in the manner claimed” by prosecutors.

Tuesday’s order did not mention Merchan and his family members — a loophole that Trump seized on Wednesday. It also does not apply to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“To ‘clarify or confirm’ the meaning of the gag order in the way the People suggest would be to expand it. No expansion is appropriate on the basis of a one-page letter citing only two cases,” his attorneys wrote. “Given the sensitivities associated with prior restraints, if the Court wishes to consider such an expansion, a complete opportunity for full adversarial briefing is necessary.”

Trump’s attorneys suggested that during such a briefing they would make constitutional arguments opposing “any additional improper restrictions on protected campaign speech.”

In a ruling this week that argued Trump’s prior conduct “establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice,” Merchan ordered Trump to “refrain” from “making or directing others to make public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation” in hush money case, as well as about individual prosecutors, court staff members, jurors and potential jurors.

Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung on Tuesday called Merchan’s order “unconstitutional” and contended that it blocks Trump from “engaging in core political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment.”

The former president pleaded not guilty in New York last year after Bragg brought 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with hush money paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The Manhattan DA’s hush money case against Trump is scheduled to go to trial April 15.

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