Frustrated Trump waves hands in virtual court appearance as criminal trial set during 2024 elections
Donald Trump appeared virtually in Manhattan criminal court on 23 May for the first time since he was charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
Judge Juan Merchan disclosed the terms of a protective order that prohibits the former president from publicly discussing evidence in the case after prosecutors with the New York District Attorney’s office share information with Mr Trump’s legal team in a case stemming from hush money payments during his 2016 campaign.
A trial is set to begin on 25 March 2024, days after voting begins in Republican presidential primaries as Mr Trump once again seeks the GOP nomination. He has pleaded not guilty.
Mr Trump grew agitated with the announcement of the trial date, waved his hands and shook his head in disapproval, then folded his arms in frustration as he begins to stare down what could be a weeks-long trial in a critical period in the middle of his 2024 campaign.
Prosecutors have argued that a protective order was necessary to keep Mr Trump – who already has repeatedly lashed out against Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg and Judge Merchan – from broadcasting information about the case before a jury has been selected and a trial begins.
Mr Trump will be allowed to publicly discuss the case and defend himself in the public sphere, as he continues to adamantly reject the charges as a “witch hunt” against him, but he risks being held in contempt of court if he uses any evidence handed to his team in an attempt to target witnesses, court staff or others involved with the case.
On Tuesday, the former president appeared on a video screen in front of two American flags with golden fringes, seated next to his attorney Todd Blanche.
A six-page order on 8 May prohibits the presumptive frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president, who has used his online bully pulpit with an audience of obedient followers to broadcast veiled threats and insults at his perceived enemies, from disseminating “covered materials” on social media platforms “including, but not limited, to Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, or YouTube, without prior approval from the court.”
Mr Trump also cannot disclose the names and identifying information of any personnel from the Manhattan district attorney’s office, “other than sworn members of law enforcement, assistant district attorneys, and expert or fact witnesses (other than summary witnesses)” until a jury has been selected, according to the order. Mr Bagg’s office can also redact identifying information from discovery materials, the judge has said.
The former president is “very concerned that his First Amendment rights are being violated by this protective order,” Mr Blanche told the judge on Tuesday.
“It’s certainly not a gag order,” Judge Merchan said.
“It’s certainly not my intention in any way to impede Mr Trump’s ability to campaign ... He’s certainly free to deny the charges,” he added. “He’s free to do just about anything that doesn’t violate the specific terms of this protective order.”
Mr Trump, his former attorney Michael Cohen and the former owner of the National Enquirer David Pecker allegedly worked in concert to“identify, purchase, and bury negative information about him and boost his electoral prospects” leading up to the 2016 presidential election, according to prosecutors.
The alleged payments were used to cover up sex scandals as part of a “conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election,” according to prosecutors.
Hours after he first appeared in criminal court on 4 April, after the judge warned him against making any incendiary remarks or personal attacks, Mr Trump immediately flew back to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he went on to do just that.
“I have a Trump-hating judge, with a Trump-hating wife and family,” he said that night.
He called Mr Bragg “a local failed district attorney” and a “criminal” who should resign.
The former president is at the centre of several other civil and criminal investigations, including a $250m lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James, special counsel probes from the US Department of Justice into January 6 and mishandling of classified White House documents at Mar-a-Lago, and a criminal case in Georgia stemming from his attempts to pressure officials to overturn that state’s election results in 2020.
Earlier this month, a federal jury found Mr Trump liable for for battery and defamation in a lawsuit from the writer E Jean Carroll, who said the former president raped her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s.
Jurors agreed that Mr Trump “sexually abused” her and then defamed her when he denied her allegations. She was awarded $5m in damages for both claims.