NY judge issues gag order on Trump in hush money trial, blasting his ‘threatening, inflammatory, denigrating’ statements

A New York judge has imposed a gag order on Donald Trump, limiting the former president from making statements about potential witnesses in the criminal trial relating to hush money payments scheduled to begin next month.

Judge Juan Merchan also said that Trump can’t make statements about attorneys, court staff or the family members of prosecutors or lawyers intended to interfere with the case. Trump is also barred from making statements about any potential or actual juror.

The former president, Merchan wrote, has a history of making “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” statements against people at all levels of the justice system, including jurors.

The ruling will prevent Trump from criticizing his former attorney, Michael Cohen, or adult film star Stormy Daniels, who are both expected to be witnesses at trial.

The order does not prevent Trump from talking about New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is a public figure, or Merchan himself.

The gag order comes as Trump has repeatedly attacked the district attorney’s case and those involved with it ahead of what would be the first criminal trial of a former president. Trump criticized Merchan, his daughter and one of Bragg’s prosecutors in the hours before Merchan issued his order.

“The uncontested record reflecting the Defendant’s prior extra-judicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice … and there exists no less restrictive means to prevent such risk,” Merchan wrote Tuesday.

Trump’s historic criminal trial will begin with jury selection on April 15, after a dispute over the late production of documents caused Merchan to initially push back the start date. Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records stemming from reimbursements to Cohen for hush money payments he made before the 2016 election to Daniels to keep her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump. The former president has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair.

The district attorney’s office had requested the gag order last month to remain in place for the duration of the trial.

Trump and his attorneys have argued that as the leading Republican candidate for president, Trump’s speech should not be restricted as he appeals to voters in the 2024 election.

“Judge Merchan’s unconstitutional Gag Order prevents President Trump — the leading candidate for President of the United States — from engaging in core political speech, which is entitled to the highest level of protection under the First Amendment,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “American voters have a fundamental right to hear the uncensored voice of the leading candidate for the highest office in the land.”

Trump attorney Todd Blanche declined to comment.

Merchan said Trump’s statements have been ‘threatening, inflammatory, denigrating’

Judges in Trump’s other criminal and civil cases have issued similar gag orders, including the New York civil fraud trial and the federal election subversion case in Washington, DC. In the civil fraud case last fall, Trump was twice fined for violating Judge Arthur Engoron’s gag order and making comments about the judge’s staff.

Merchan said he reviewed Trump’s public statements in his other cases as he decided whether to impose restrictions.

“These extrajudicial statements went far beyond defending himself against ‘attacks’ by ‘public figures,’” Merchan wrote.

“Indeed, his statements were threatening, inflammatory, denigrating, and the targets of his statements ranged from local and federal officials, court and court staff, prosecutors and staff assigned to the cases, and private individuals including grand jurors performing their civic duty,” the judge wrote.

Merchan said that he felt he had to go further than a previous order that jurors’ names and identifying information can’t be publicly released.

“While the protective order related to juror anonymity prevents the dissemination of certain personal information, it is not sufficient to prevent extrajudicial speech targeting jurors and exposing them to an atmosphere of intimidation,” the judge wrote.

Merchan watched Trump’s news conference Monday

Trump attended Monday’s pre-trial hearing, where Merchan swiftly rejected the motion seeking sanctions against the district attorney’s office, setting the trial date for April 15.

Afterward, Trump went to his 40 Wall Street building nearby, speaking to reporters to attack the case against him, Merchan and one of the prosecutors on Bragg’s staff who previously worked for the Justice Department, Matthew Colangelo.

On Truth Social Tuesday, Trump continued attacking Colangelo, baselessly claiming that the prosecutor was sent to the district attorney’s office to go after Trump as Attorney General Merrick Garland’s “right hand.”

Trump’s remarks could now run afoul of the gag order, which says Trump cannot comment on any district attorney staff other than Bragg himself.

Merchan made clear in his order that he was paying attention, citing Trump’s comments..

“Notably, within hours of the court appearance on March 25, 2024, setting the trial date for April 15, 2024, the Defendant targeted an individual prosecutor assigned to this case, referring to him as a ‘radical left from DOJ put into [ … ] the District Attorney’s Office to run the trial against Trump and that was done by Biden and his thugs’ in a press conference,” Merchan wrote.

Merchan ‘unpersuaded’ that Trump hasn’t commented as much on hush money case

Merchan also noted Trump’s criticism of his daughter, who has worked for Democratic political campaigns, referencing “the nature and impact of the statements made against this Court and a family member thereof.”

Trump on Tuesday referenced the political work of Merchan’s daughter in a lengthy attack on Truth Social. Last year, Trump asked Merchan to recuse himself in part because of his daughter’s political work. The judge declined to do so.

The judge said he was “unpersuaded” by arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the former president has largely refrained from commenting on the parties in this case in comparison to his other cases.

“Although this Court did not issue an order restricting Defendant’s speech at the inception of this case, choosing instead to issue an admonition, given the nature and impact of the statements made against this Court and a family member thereof, the District Attorney and an Assistant District Attorney, the witnesses in this case, as well as the nature and impact of the extrajudicial statements made by Defendant in the D.C. Circuit case (which resulted in the D.C. Circuit issuing an order restricting his speech), and given that the eve of trial is upon us, it is without question that the imminency of the risk of harm is now paramount,” Merchan wrote.

The judge noted that Trump’s statements in his cases had led to “not only fear on the part of the individual targeted, but also the assignment of increased security resources to investigate threats and protect the individuals and family members thereof.”

“Such inflammatory extrajudicial statements undoubtedly risk impeding the orderly administration of this Court,” Merchan wrote.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Alayna Treene contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com