Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday claimed that a judge "violated" his First Amendment rights by explaining the terms of a protective order restricting Trump's use of evidence in his hush-money case.
Trump appeared virtually for a Tuesday hearing that Judge Juan Manuel Merchan, who is overseeing Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's 34-count indictment against Trump over his role in wired payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign, scheduled earlier this month after establishing rules preventing the former president from using case evidence to attack witnesses or make a public spectacle.
"It's certainly not a gag order. 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's free to do just about anything that doesn't violate the specific terms of this protective order," the judge said, according to The Daily Beast.
However, Merchan did advise the ex-president that dismissing the protective order could create a slew of legal issues, including fines or jail time.
"Violation of a court order or a court mandate could result in sanctions. There are a wide range of sanctions, but it could include up to a finding of contempt, and that is punishable," he said.
NPR reported that Trump, who was tuning in from his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida, spoke only once during the hearing, saying "I do" when asked if he had a copy of the order.
However, not long after the hearing had concluded, Trump took to Truth Social to bemoan what he felt had been a violation of his First Amendment rights.
"Just had New York County Supreme Court hearing where I believe my First Amendment Rights, 'Freedom of Speech,' have been violated, and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25th, right in the middle of Primary season," Trump wrote. "Very unfair, but this is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted. It's called ELECTION INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before!!!"
During the hearing, Trump's lead defense lawyer Todd Blanche prodded Merchan's protective order, arguing that "because President Trump is running for president of the United States and is the current leading contender... he's very much concerned that his First Amendment rights are being violated by this order."
The order, which was signed by the judge on May 8, stipulates that any evidence shared by the DA "shall be used solely for the purposes of preparing a defense," barring Trump from sharing the case materials online in any capacity. Additionally, Merhcan wrote that Trump is only permitted to "review the limited dissemination materials only in the presence of defense counsel."
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman observed that Mechan "is treating Trump like a truant child."
"Sounds as if Merchan was really tough on Trump in the hearing today — letting him and counsel know that if there's any violation of the discovery order, it's for him (Merchan) to handle, including possible criminal contempt," he wrote on Twitter.
CNN legal analyst Norm Eisen warned that Trump faces a "grave risk" after being "lectured by judge" because he's so "undisciplined."
"If he violates the order, he'll now face serious consequences," he tweeted.
Ever since Bragg's probe began to gain significant traction, the former president had unleashed a torrent of vitriol and personal attacks online. In March, he floated "death and destruction" in an early morning Truth Social rant before being indicted, calling Bragg a "degenerate psychopath that truly hates the USA." Last month, Trump targeted Merchan in another Truth Social tirade, calling him "highly partisan" and claiming his family "are well known Trump haters."
In March, Trump referred to the case as a "witch hunt," alleging that Merchan hated him.
"The Judge 'assigned' to my Witch Hunt Case, a 'Case' that has NEVER BEEN CHARGED BEFORE, HATES ME," Trump wrote. "His name is Juan Manuel Marchan, was hand picked by Bragg & the Prosecutors, & is the same person who 'railroaded' my 75 year old former CFO, Allen Weisselberg, to take a 'plea' deal (Plead GUILTY, even if you are not, 90 DAYS, fight us in Court, 10 years (life!) in jail. He strong armed Allen, which a judge is not allowed to do, & treated my companies, which didn't 'plead,' VICIOUSLY."
about Trump's legal woes
- "Ultimate Hail Mary": Experts say desperate Trump letter to Garland signals indictment is "imminent"
- "Shocked at the stupidity": Prosecutors obtain lawyer notes that blow up Trump's Mar-a-Lago defense
- "Trump keeps defaming E. Jean Carroll": Trump's new Truth Social attack could badly backfire
- Expert: Jack Smith subpoena for foreign deals suggests DOJ concerned Trump tried to "monetize" docs