Hush-money judge repeatedly bench-slaps Donald Trump's lawyer over gag violations: 'You're losing all credibility!'

  • Trump's hush money trial is in its second week in Manhattan.

  • Attorney Todd Blanche struggled Tuesday to defend Trump's online attacks on witnesses and the jury.

  • "You're losing all credibility," the judge railed when Blanche insisted Trump was "careful" online.

A judge verbally excoriated a defense attorney for Donald Trump during the Manhattan hush-money trial on Tuesday, questioning the lawyer's ethics and calling his arguments unsupported and "irrelevant."

"You're losing all credibility," New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan angrily told the lawyer, Todd Blanche.

"You're losing all credibility with the court," Merchan repeated, his voice frustrated.

The remarkable tongue-lashing came during a hearing on whether the GOP frontrunner was in contempt of court for violating his gag order more than ten times in the past three weeks.

The judge said Tuesday morning that he would issue a decision later — he didn't say when — on prosecutors' request that Trump be fined $10,000. Prosecutors also want Trump warned of possible jail should his attacks on jurors and witnesses continue.

"We are not yet seeking an incarceratory penalty, though the defendant seems to be angling for that," prosecutor Christopher Conroy said in a hearing held before testimony began for the day.

In addition to the hush money trial, now in its second week, Blanche represents Trump in his Florida classified-documents case and his Washington, DC, 2021 election-interference case.

His credibility came under fire again on Tuesday as he struggled to argue that Trump had not violated his gag order, as prosecutors claimed — and that, in fact, his client is being "careful."

"We are trying to comply with it," Blanche told the judge, referring to the gag.

"President Trump is being very careful," the lawyer added.

It was at this point that the judge accused Blanche of "losing all credibility."

"We don't read the order that way," Blanche was left to stammer, calling the gag order "ambiguous."

"We'll take down the posts, of course we will," the lawyer added.

Donald Trump at his hush-money trial in Manhattan.
Donald Trump with attorney Todd Blanche, left, arriving at his hush-money trial in Manhattan.Reuters/Timothy A. Clary

The judge's gag order

Merchan's April 1 order bars Trump from making statements against witnesses and jurors, among other categories of people, if those attacks could interfere with the trial.

The alleged gag violations argued about on Tuesday included Trump's April 10 Truth Social post attacking key witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels as "sleaze bags," and another "truth" that claimed "undercover liberal activists" were infiltrating the jury.

Blanche's arguments at Tuesday's hearing, in defense of Trump's posts, fell roughly into three categories.

None were supported, the judge soon noted.

"I've asked you eight or nine times, show me," the judge said, referring to the times he asked Blanche for supporting case law. "And you were not able to do that — even once."

Blanche's first argument was that Trump is allowed to make purely political attacks on political opponents.

His second was that Trump is somehow protected because prosecutors waited three weeks to start complaining.

"There is a history here of posting and reposting that has gone unchecked," the lawyer fumbled.

But the fact that prosecutors "did not come running in here" after the first few posts "is not probative of anything," the judge snapped back.

Blanche's third argument was that reposting attacks on trial witnesses that were originally made by others was somehow exempt.

It was here that Merchan really hit the proverbial roof.

Where is the case law exempting repeated or "reposted" speech from gag orders? the judge demanded.

"I've asked you eight or nine times, show me, and you were not able to do that even once," the judge said.

"You're not giving me anything to hang my hat on," he added.

Brushing some of the 10 posts off as reposts "somehow washes his hands?" the judge asked.

What if someone was walking around with a placard saying "terrible things" about jurors, Merchan asked Blanche, as a hypothetical.

"Is it your position that if your client was to grab that placard and walk around with it, and it says terrible things about the jury, that he did nothing wrong?" the judge asked the lawyer.

"Is that what you're saying to me?" the judge repeated, his voice impatient.

"Are you testifying under oath that this is your position?" the judge demanded at another point.

"Is it your client's position that when he reposted something, he did not believe that he was violating the gag order?"

michael cohen stormy daniels
Trump repeatedly attacked Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels online.Atilgan Ozdil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Prosecutors are demanding a $10,000 fine — the maximum allowed — for three weeks of Truth Social and campaign website posts attacking two trial witnesses, Daniels and Cohen.

A Truth Social post from April 10 called both the porn star and Trump's former fixer "sleaze bags."

A Truth Social post from April 17, the second day of jury selection, was "very troubling," Conroy, the prosecutor, told the judge.

It cited Fox News commentator Jesse Watters and claimed that "undercover liberal activists are lying to the judge in order to get on the Trump jury."

Trump could be thrown in jail for a maximum of 30 days for each gag violation, but Conroy said Tuesday that a warning that jail is possible if Trump does not stop would suffice — for now.

Other witnesses, beyond Cohen and Daniels, see these posts and are also intimidated, the prosecutor said, calling it "sort of the undertow effect."

"The defendant is having his day in court," Conroy said in successfully arguing for the fines and warning levied by Merchan.

"Unfortunately," the prosecutor added, "he is doing everything he can to undermine this process."

Catch and kill

After the morning hearing, jurors were called into the courtroom to hear the continued testimony from the trial's first witness, former National Enquirer executive David Pecker.

"I met him in the '80s at Mar-a-Lago," Pecker told the five-woman, seven-man jury.

Pecker described the "beneficial relationship" he enjoyed with Trump since taking control of the tabloid in March of 1999.

Stories attacking Trump's enemies — in particular stories about Hillary Clinton "enabling" her philandering husband — were good for both of them, Pecker said.

The two spoke daily during Trump's 2016 run for president, he said, when the tabloid's headlines included "Ted Cruz sex scandal five different mistresses."

In describing the origin of the tabloid's "catch-and-kill' campaign on Trump's behalf, Pecker offered jurors an important narrative to the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's case.

Prosecutors say that just 11 days before the 2016 election, Trump paid $130,000 in hush money to bury Daniels' story of a 2006 extramarital affair with the then-Apprentice star in 2006.

It was a story that Pecker "caught" when Daniels tried to sell it to the Enquirer and then "killed" by alerting Cohen, prosecutors said.

Cohen, then a Trump Organization vice president, acted as bag man, taking out a home equity loan to pay Daniels' lawyer the $130,000.

Prosecutors say that in reimbursing Cohen in monthly installments throughout 2017, Trump falsified 34 Trump Organization business documents.

Each of the falsified invoices, checks, and business ledger entries claimed the reimbursements were "legal fees," rather than what they were, prosecutors allege: illegal campaign expenditures meant to influence the 2016 election.

Pecker's testimony is expected to continue when court resumes Thursday.

In one of his last bits of testimony before the day concluded Tuesday, the tabloid exec described a June, 2016 phone conversation with Trump.

They spoke about former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who was shopping a story about a year-long affair with the then-candidate.

"I think the story should be purchased and you should buy it," Pecker said he told Trump.

"He says, 'I don't buy any stories,'" Pecker recalled of Trump's response.

"He said, 'any time you do something like this, it always gets out.' I said I still believe we have to get this story off the market."

Prosecutors allege that the $150,000 McDougal received — out of Pecker's pocket, not Trump's — was a precursor to the hush-money at the center of the trial that Daniels received four months later.

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