Judge issues gag order barring Donald Trump from commenting over hush money case

A New York judge has issued a gag order barring Donald Trump from making public statements about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors in his upcoming hush money criminal trial.

Judge Juan M Merchan cited Mr Trump’s previous comments about him and others involved in the case, as well as a looming April 15 trial date in granting the prosecution’s request for a gag order.

“It is without question that the imminency of the risk of harm is now paramount,” Mr Merchan wrote.

Prosecutors had asked for the gag order citing what they called his “long history of making public and inflammatory remarks” about people involved in his legal cases.

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Former president Donald Trump leaves a pre-trial hearing (Mary Altaffer/AP)

The gag order adds to restrictions put in place after Mr Trump’s arraignment last April that prohibits him from using evidence in the case to attack witnesses.

The trial, involving allegations related to hush money paid during Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign to cover up marital infidelity claims, had been in limbo after his lawyers complained about a recent deluge of nearly 200,000 pages of evidence from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Mr Trump’s lawyers accused Mr Bragg’s office of intentionally failing to pursue evidence from the 2018 federal investigation, which sent Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to prison.

They contended prosecutors working under Mr Bragg, a Democrat, did so to gain an unfair advantage in the case and harm Mr Trump’s election chances.

Mr Cohen, now a vocal Trump critic, is poised to be a key prosecution witness against his ex-boss.

Mr Merchan bristled at the defence’s claims at a hearing on Monday, saying the DA’s office had no duty to collect evidence from the federal investigation, nor was the US attorney’s office required to volunteer the documents.

What transpired was a “far cry” from Manhattan prosecutors “injecting themselves in the process and vehemently and aggressively trying to obstruct your ability to get documentation”, the judge said.

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