Trump’s lawyers say hush money gag order stifles campaign speech


By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s lawyers urged the judge who oversaw his hush money trial to lift a gag order now that he has been convicted, arguing his opponents were using the restrictions on the former U.S. president’s speech as a “political sword.”  

In a court filing earlier this week, defense lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove noted that Democratic President Joe Biden’s campaign had referred to Trump, the Republican candidate, as a “convicted felon” in a May 30 statement.

They said the order might limit Trump’s ability to respond to attacks from Biden during their June 27 presidential debate – though the order only restricts Trump’s public statements about jurors, witnesses and other individuals involved in the court proceedings, and does not prevent him from criticizing the case in general.  

“President Trump’s opponents and adversaries are using the Gag Order as a political sword to attack President Trump with reference to this case, on the understanding that his ability to mount a detailed response is severely restricted,” Bove and Blanche wrote. 

A Manhattan jury on May 30 found Trump, 77, guilty on 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier. It was the first-ever criminal trial of a U.S. president, past or present.

Trump denies having sex with Daniels and has vowed to appeal the verdict after his July 11 sentencing. 

Before the trial began in April, Justice Juan Merchan issued the order after prosecutors argued Trump’s history of making threatening statements showed he could derail proceedings.

During the trial, Merchan fined Trump $1,000 for each of 10 violations of the gag order. Those included a social media post in which he called Cohen a “serial liar” and an interview in which he said, “that jury was picked so fast – 95% Democrats.”

Prosecutors in a one-page letter last week urged the judge to keep the gag order in place at least through his sentencing, arguing he was still obligated to “protect the integrity of these proceedings.” They are expected to follow-up with a more complete filing in the coming weeks.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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