New York judge bans Trump from publicly discussing certain evidence in hush money case

Former US president Donald J Trump delivers remarks at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, US, 4 April 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich)

Donald Trump will not be able to publicly discuss certain evidence in the criminal case against him over a hush money payment to a porn star, a New York state judge said on Thursday.

Justice Juan Merchan in Manhattan said the restriction would only apply to evidence obtained by the prosecution and turned over to the former US president to prepare for trial.

“I am not going to do anything … to infringe on his First Amendment rights,” the judge said in advance of issuing an order.

Merchan also asked Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors to see if they can agree on a trial date in February or March 2024, which would be in the thick of his campaign for the presidency.

Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Trump, told the judge he would try to move the case to federal court on Thursday.

The two sides went before Merchan to argue about the court order prosecutors are seeking that would stop Trump from publicly disclosing certain evidence they are obligated to turn over to him to prepare his defence. Given Trump’s history of attacks via social media, they said it was needed to reduce the risk of harassment against witnesses and others in the case.

Defence attorneys argued that the proposed order is too restrictive and that Trump has a right to comment on evidence, both to defend himself and as a presidential candidate. They said prosecutors and witnesses have attacked Trump as well.

Merchan said Trump would be free to speak about most evidence, just not that garnered by the prosecution and turned over to him for his defence in the case. He said the restrictions he would impose do not apply to the majority of evidence, which comes from the defence.

“I am bending over backwards,” the judge said, to see Trump is “given every opportunity … to advance his candidacy”.

But, Merchan added, “His words, especially when used in the form of rhetoric, can have consequences.”

The hearing was the first in the criminal case since Trump was arraigned in Manhattan state court on April 4 on 34 counts of falsifying business records to conceal reimbursements to his then lawyer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Trump’s appearance was waived, so he was not in court. He was in Doonbeg, Ireland, playing golf on Thursday.

Assistant District Attorney Catherine McCaw asked that Trump be advised about Merchan’s order on the record, once it is issued. The judge said he would arrange for Trump to appear virtually, avoiding the huge police presence required when the former president was arraigned in court last month.

The order, which still must be finalised, also is expected to contain other restrictions, such as barring anyone who receives the material from disseminating or posting it on news and social media platforms without court approval.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records to conceal an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential election.

As part of the scheme, prosecutors said, he asked Cohen to pay Daniels for her silence about an alleged sexual encounter, which he denies. Cohen was reimbursed through cheques that prosecutors said disguised violations of New York election law and campaign contribution limits under federal election law.

Trump faces a plethora of other legal cases, including a civil case trial centring on accusations of rape and defamation that continued in a federal courtroom on Thursday.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Jonathan Oatis.)


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