Vance asks Garland to probe gag order in Trump hush money case

Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) sent a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to investigate whether the gag order placed on former President Trump in his New York hush money trial violates his constitutional rights.

Trump has repeatedly complained about his treatment by Manhattan Criminal Court Justice Juan Merchan, who placed a gag order on the former president to bar him from publicly commenting on witnesses, prosecutors, court staff or the judge’s family. It does not prevent him from attacking Merchan or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D).

Merchan has found Trump in contempt multiple times for violating the order and even threatened to send him to jail over it.

Vance argues the order appears to violate a Reconstruction-era statute that Congress passed more than 100 years ago to protect the rights of freed slaves — and which he says now applies to Trump’s situation in New York.

“These statutes would seem to have quite a lot to say about the conduct of Juan Merchan, the New York trial judge and Democratic political donor who has set up a kangaroo court for Donald Trump in Manhattan,” Vance wrote in a May 29 letter to Garland.

The Ohio senator says “an investigation is warranted at least,” pointing out that Justice Department prosecutors are well acquainted with the federal statutes at issue because they charged Trump with one of them for conspiring against the right to vote in connection to his efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Vance, who is seen as a possible running mate for Trump, says Merchan’s gag order “has imposed prior restraint on the protected speech of a former president who is now leading presidential polling of the next election.”

And he says the judge has made Trump “powerless to question the credibility of witnesses testifying against him.”

He further argues that Merchan has been “shameless” and has “bent over backwards to allow the prosecution to introduce whatever evidence it wants” but “has taken a strong hand against defense evidence at every opportunity.”

“In one ludicrous example, he ruled that President Trump’s lawyers could not even mention to the jury that the prosecution of President Trump is ‘novel, unusual or unprecedented’ – even though by that point liberal law professors, newspapers and former prosecutors had all conceded that the Bragg prosecution depended on a ‘novel interpretation’ of state law,” he wrote.

And Vance says that the prosecutors have repeatedly urged the judge to deprive Trump of his “First Amendment rights in court filings and oral advocacy,” making them — he argues — possible co-conspirators.

He has asked Garland to let him know by June 28 whether the Justice Department will investigate the matter.

“If you will not open an investigation, please let me know whether you will consider issuing a document-retention request to allow a future administration to consider taking up the case,” he wrote in conclusion.

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