Former U.S. President Donald Trump has been ordered to appear at a hearing on May 23 in his Manhattan criminal case. Judge Juan Manuel Merchan is taking the unprecedented action of enforcing a limited gag order against the 2024 presidential candidate, forbidding him from attacking witnesses or defending himself against charges by pointing to exculpatory evidence presented at trial.
As reported by NBC News, the criminal judge plans to “school” Donald Trump on the gag order. Trump will be forbidden from breaching the order, while prosecutors have no such legal constraints and can presumptively drag the candidate’s name through the mud during the election campaign.
“We’ll setup the camera for Mr. Trump to appear wherever he is at that time and we’ll do it here in the courtroom virtually,” Merchan said.
The case, which involves 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, is continuing in state court, despite Trump’s lawyers seeking to move it to federal court. The protective order, issued on Monday, bars Trump and his lawyers from disseminating evidence to third parties or posting it to social media. It also requires certain sensitive material shared by prosecutors to be kept only by Trump’s lawyers, not Trump himself.
Prosecutors sought the order soon after Trump’s arrest, claiming that he has a history of “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements” about litigants in legal disputes.
Merchan, noting Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate, claimed at last week’s hearing that the protective order shouldn’t be construed as a gag order or a way of preventing Trump from speaking publicly about the case.
“I’m bending over backwards and straining to make sure that he is given every opportunity possible to advance his candidacy and to be able to speak in furtherance of his candidacy,” Merchan said. “The last thing I want to do is infringe on his or anybody else’s First Amendment rights.”
However, Donald Trump is indeed being restrained in his ability to defend himself from attacks in the media during an election campaign.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who secured the criminal indictment, has been accused of coordinating with the White House, thereby committing “election interference.”
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