Judge Poised to Sanction Trump for Gag Order Violations as Testimony Reveals AMI’s Role in 2016 Campaign

Featured & Cover Judge Poised to Sanction Trump for Gag Order Violations as Testimony Reveals AMI's Role in 2016 Campaign

Judge Juan Merchan seemed prepared on Tuesday to penalize Donald Trump for violating the gag order in his criminal hush money case after questioning the former president’s attorneys about the acceptability of Trump’s social media posts.

The day commenced with a hearing concerning Trump’s alleged breaches of the gag order, culminating in former American Media Inc. chief David Pecker discussing his vetting process of claims regarding an affair between Trump and Playboy playmate Karen McDougal in 2016. Pecker disclosed his continuous communication with Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, during this period, although Trump has denied the affair.

Despite an abbreviated schedule due to the Passover holiday, the dual impact of the gag order violations and the revelation of “catch-and-kill” deals to suppress negative stories about Trump during the 2016 election made it a vexing day for Trump in court. Trump expressed frustration over the news coverage of the trial and the constraints imposed by the judge’s gag order.

Pecker is set to return to the witness stand on Thursday after a dark day in court on Wednesday. He has already testified about two of the three catch-and-kill deals, leaving discussion of adult film star Stormy Daniels likely for Thursday.

Key takeaways from Tuesday’s proceedings:

**Gag order hearing poses challenges for Trump**

Judge Merchan imposed the gag order before the trial’s commencement, restricting Trump from publicly discussing witnesses, the jury, or the district attorney’s staff. Merchan subsequently broadened the order, which Trump has appealed, to encompass his own family following Trump’s disparagement of his daughter.

While Merchan has yet to render a decision on the district attorney’s motion to penalize Trump for alleged violations of the gag order, his sentiments were apparent. Merchan dismissed the explanations provided by Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, for the offending posts. Blanche contended that Trump’s posts concerning Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen were political rather than related to the case. However, Merchan grew frustrated when Blanche attempted to argue that Trump’s response to a Cohen post about Michael Avenatti was political due to its discussion of pardons.

Merchan also probed Blanche regarding Trump’s intentions, particularly when Blanche asserted that Trump’s reposts on Truth Social were not necessarily subject to the gag order.

“It’s your client’s position that when he reposts he did not believe he was violating the gag order. I’d like to hear that. Or you just want me to accept it because you’re saying it?” Merchan queried Blanche.

**Judge admonishes Trump lawyers**

Tensions escalated between Trump’s legal team and the trial judge during the gag order hearing. Merchan repeatedly pressed Blanche to specify instances where Trump specifically responded to attacks from Cohen and Daniels on social media, growing visibly frustrated when Blanche failed to do so.

“You’ve presented nothing,” Merchan admonished Blanche. “I’ve asked you eight or nine times [to] show me the exact post he was responding to. You’ve been unable to do that even once.”

At one point, Blanche asserted, “President Trump is being very careful to comply with your order.”

To which Merchan retorted, “You’re losing all credibility with the court.”

Last week, Merchan supported prosecutors’ decision to withhold notice of their witness list from Trump’s legal team, citing understanding in light of Trump’s social media attacks.

**Pecker sheds light on AMI’s role in 2016 campaign**

Pecker, who helmed American Media Inc. during the 2016 election, provided approximately two-and-a-half hours of testimony on Tuesday, elucidating how he collaborated with Michael Cohen to quash unfavorable stories during the campaign.

Pecker detailed the “catch and kill” deals involving McDougal and Trump’s doorman, disclosing a meeting in 2015 where Trump and Cohen solicited his assistance in managing negative stories.

While Pecker wasn’t directly involved in the $130,000 payment to Daniels, his testimony is pivotal to prosecutors’ case as it establishes a pattern of payments made to conceal damaging stories about Trump during the election.

Pecker underscored Cohen’s central role in the alleged “catch and kill conspiracy,” revealing that Cohen served as the intermediary between Trump and Pecker regarding media stories since 2007. Pecker recounted how Cohen would be informed about negative stories and would then facilitate their suppression.

Furthermore, Pecker revealed Cohen’s involvement in pitching stories about Trump’s political rivals during the campaign.

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