Manhattan prosecutors keep Trump trial witness list secret so ex-president can’t lash out on Truth Social

Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s historic hush money trial have refused to hand over a list of witnesses in the case in a bid to save them from Truth Social attacks by the former president.

Mr Trump is facing 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election, in exchange for her silence over an alleged affair back in 2006.

On Thursday 18 April – before the first witness, David Pecker, took the stand on Monday – Mr Trump’s attorney Susan Necheles asked for the name of at least one witness that prosecutors intended on introducing the following week.

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass explained that his office would normally hand over such information to the defence, but that they were reluctant to do so in this high-profile case because of Mr Trump’s penchant for lashing out online at witnesses and others involved in the case.

“Mr Trump has been tweeting about the witnesses,” he said. “We’re not telling him who the witnesses are.”

After the defence voiced some disappointment, Judge Merchan responded: “I can’t fault them for that.”

“Whether you get the name or not, you’re not going to delay the trial. You won’t,” he added said, promising that he wouldn’t order the prosecution to turn over the list.

Prosecutors did, however, agree to provide the name of a witness the day before that person is likely to testify. But this promise came with a caveat: if the former president publicly discusses that person, prosecutors wouldn’t continue to share the witnesses ahead of time.

Even without the witness list, Mr Trump has already publicly disparaged his former “fixer” Michael Cohen and Ms Daniels, both of whom are considered likely, if not star, witnesses in the criminal case.

During the trial’s first week, the former president referred to the two as “two sleaze bags who have, with their lies and misrepresentations, cost our Country dearly!”

On Tuesday, Judge Merchan held a hearing to determine whether Mr Trump violated a gag order at least 10 times by posting on his Truth Social platform and campaign website, attacking the likes of Cohen and Ms Daniels.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy accused Mr Trump of “knowingly and willfully breaching the crystal clear, unequivocal lines drawn up by the court”. Prosecutors have asked for a $10,000 fine, stressing they haven’t asked for jail time “yet”.

Former US President Donald Trump watches as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass questions David Pecker before Justice Juan Merchan on 23 April (REUTERS)
Former US President Donald Trump watches as prosecutor Joshua Steinglass questions David Pecker before Justice Juan Merchan on 23 April (REUTERS)

On the other hand, defence attorney Todd Blanche argued that there was “absolutely no willful violation” of the gag order in the offending posts.

“The witnesses themselves can constantly comment on whatever they want ... and Trump, in theory, cannot respond,” Mr Blanche told the court.

He added that his client was responding to a “barrage” of political attacks — however he failed to cite the posts that Mr Trump was allegedly reacting to.

Eventually, Judge Merchan seemed to become frustrated, telling the Trump attorney that he was “losing all credibility.

The judge is yet to issue a decision on the matter.

But the prosecution’s decision to keep the list private seems to have stayed relevant, given Mr Trump continues to post relentlessly on Truth Social throughout the trial.

On Tuesday, just minutes after the hearing over potential gag order violations, the former president took to his favourite social media platform to bash Judge Merchan.

He claimed the judge was “HIGHLY CONFLICTED, TO PUT IT MILDLY” and was running a “KANGAROO COURT”.