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Donald Trump smirks in court in New York City

‘I’m not accepting your argument’: Second gag order hearing in Trump hush-money case leaves judge unimpressed but slightly more receptive to defense arguments

Former President Donald Trump sits inside Manhattan Criminal Court, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (Mark Peterson/Pool Photo via AP)

The lead defense attorney representing Donald Trump in his New York hush-money case appeared in a lower Manhattan courtroom Thursday morning to argue on his client’s behalf away from jurors’ ears during a contempt hearing over alleged gag order violations.

Similar to the last time Todd Blanche was in the same situation, New York County Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan seemed a bit unimpressed by some of the arguments from the defense.

Near the end of the brief hearing, the judge pointedly asked Trump’s defense attorney whether or not his client had violated the order. In a lawyerly response, Blanche said he was crafting an argument that the former president had done no such thing. Merchan, in turn, replied back that the court was not buying the argument.

“I’m not accepting your argument,” the judge said plainly.

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    On April 23, a gag order hearing went decidedly sideways for the 45th president — with his counsel earning a rebuke on basic issues of “credibility.” The court issued a ruling one week later, finding Trump in criminal contempt, issuing a $9,000 fine for nine separate violations, bemoaning a lack of authority to mete out harsher financial punishment to the wealthy defendant, and that musing “jail may be a necessary punishment” if violations of the order continue.

    Prosecutors allege that since their initial motion on the violations, but before the court issued its first order, Trump violated the gag order — which has been in place in various iterations beginning in late March — an additional four times during media appearances.

    Two of the comments are decidedly unflattering references to the defendant’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, 57. One of the comments is an arguably flattering reference to David Pecker, 72, the onetime CEO of the National Enquirer‘s parent company, American Media Inc. The final comment was a negative reference to the purported political leanings of jurors and how fast jury selection occurred.

    The state cautioned, however, that it does not want the defendant thrown in jail over the latest alleged gag order violations, according to a report by Just Security fellow Adam Klasfeld. As an explanation, Assistant District Attorney Christopher Conroy said the state aimed “to minimize disruption to these proceedings.”

    The prosecutor said Trump’s latest references to witnesses and the jury in the case should be met with the maximum financial penalty.

    Merchan, for his part, signaled he was not likely to forgive comments about how the “jury was picked so fast” and is made up of “95% Democrats” who were selected from “a purely Democrat area.”

    Oppositely, the judge reportedly said he was not “terribly concerned” about Trump calling Pecker “a nice guy.” In something of a caveat and potential pitfall for the defense, the judge suggested praising Pecker could be seen as the defendant influencing what other witnesses see.

    More Law&Crime coverage: ‘No longer truthful with us’: Michael Cohen’s former banker guides jury step-by-step through the details and lies that led to Stormy Daniels payoff in Trump hush-money trial

    Less clear is how the court will deal with the two highlighted criticisms of Cohen. Reprising a familiar theme, those insults have to do with his alleged credibility as a witness and status as a convicted felon.

    Trump has repeatedly attacked Cohen — and the notion of him telling the truth under oath — throughout the proceedings and the latest jabs repeatedly used various versions of the terms “lies,” “lying,” and “liar” while also questioning his legal acumen as a now-former lawyer.

    Blanche highlighted several instances in which Cohen has used social media to criticize his former employer. Those arguments likely garnered some sympathy from the judge who previously warned witnesses should not try to use the gag order as a “sword” to level insults at the defendant who is prohibited from responding to such insults.

    Breaking: “Von ShitzInPantz” made it into the record. Todd Blanche just cited Cohen’s post below in arguing that Merchan shouldn’t sanction his client again.

    — Molly Crane-Newman (@molcranenewman) May 2, 2024

    “These are responses to repeated and persisted attacks on him,” Blanche argued, according to a report by NBC News. “Cohen has been shopping television shows based upon not only what he did for President Trump, but what he’s doing here.”

    Still, after Trump’s lawyer went on to complain about the overall media environment surrounding the case and how the GOP presidential candidate simply has to respond to reporters’ questions, the court telegraphed that the defense had perhaps gone a bridge too far.

    “It was your client who went down to that holding area and stood in front of the press and started to speak. It wasn’t the press that went to him. He went to the press. He didn’t need to go in that direction.” Merchan said, according to a report by The New York Times. “Nobody forced your client.”

    “Nobody’s forcing him, but he’s running for president,” Blanche retorted. “He has to be able to go speak.”

    By the end of the proceeding, the judge appeared to have lost his patience — after the defense complained the gag order was unfair.

    “Everyone in the world can say everything that they want,” Trump’s attorney said.

    Merchan was explicitly mindful of Trump’s First Amendment rights as a candidate using political speech but clearly not convinced that Trump had been hewing to his role as a defendant in a criminal proceeding.

    The court reserved ruling on the issue. The trial continued for the sixth day of testimony following the contempt hearing.

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