Trump narrowly avoids another gag order sanction in fraud trial

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York nearly hit the former president with another penalty for what appeared to be a violation of the gag order against him in the case.

In a morning break on 25 October during the second day of trial testimony from Michael Cohen, Mr Trump berated Judge Arthur Engoron and appeared to once again attack the court clerk.

On 3 October, the judge issued a gag order preventing all parties in the case from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about members of the court’s staff after Mr Trump posted false statements on his Truth Social about the judge’s chief clerk who sits beside him.

The Associated Press reports that the former president said: “If we had a jury it would have been fair, at least – even if it was a somewhat negative jury – because no negative jury would vote against me. But this judge will. Because this judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”

“I’m very protective of my staff,” Judge Engoron told the court on Wednesday when Mr Trump and his attorneys returned to the courtroom.

“The last time this gag order was violated ... I accepted the explanation that it was inadvertent,” he said. “This most recent statement, assuming the AP is correct, was intentional.”

He gave Mr Trump’s attorneys a chance to respond, asking: “Why should there not be severe sanctions for this blatant dangerous, disobeyal of a court order?”

Mr Trump’s attorney Christopher Kise said his client was referring to Cohen and not the chief clerk sitting next to the judge.

Judge Engoron said he would take Mr Kise’s response “under advisement”, leaving the door open for possible sanctions against Mr Trump later.

His clerk sits directly alongside him, while Cohen is sitting further away on the witness stand which is positioned lower than the bench.

The former president was already hit with a $5,000 fine on 20 October after keeping a copy of his post disparaging the clerk on his website and only deleting the original Truth Social post.

Judge Engoron went as far as threatening the former president with jail time over the violation.

“In the current overheated climate, incendiary comments can and in some cases already has, led to serious physical harm and worse,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump’s attorney Alina Habba asked the judge to prohibit people in the court – alluding to the clerk – from rolling their eyes or whispering during her questioning.