Judge in Trump’s hush money case clarifies gag order doesn’t prevent ex-president from testifying – Metro US

Judge in Trump’s hush money case clarifies gag order doesn’t prevent ex-president from testifying

Trump Hush Money Who’s Who
FILE – Judge Juan M. Merchan poses in his chambers in New York, March 14, 2024. Merchan is the judge presiding over Donald Trump’s hush money trial. He was also the judge in the Trump Organization’s tax fraud trial in 2022 and is overseeing a border wall fraud case against longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s hush money trial has clarified that the gag order pertaining to the former president doesn’t prohibit him from testifying on his own behalf.

Judge Juan M. Merchan started the trial day Friday by making that clarification, apparently responding to comments the Republican former president made after court the day before.

“The order restricting extrajudicial statements does not prevent you from testifying in any way,” Merchan said in court in New York, adding that the order does not limit what Trump says on the witness stand.

The judge’s comments came after Trump’s statement to reporters Thursday that he was “not allowed to testify” due to the gag order, an apparent reversal of Trump’s earlier vow that he would “absolutely” take the witness stand. Criminal defendants have a constitutional right to take the stand and cannot be forced to incriminate themselves.

Merchan directed his comments to Trump and his lawyers, saying it had come to his attention that there may have been a “misunderstanding” regarding the order.

Ahead of walking into court on Friday, Trump clarified his earlier comments, saying that the gag order does not stop him from testifying in the case but instead stops him from “talking about people and responding when they say things about me.”

The gag order — which bars Trump from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff and jurors but does not pertain to Merchan or Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — also came up as Trump briefly returned to the campaign trail earlier this week in Michigan and Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, Trump called Merchan “crooked” for holding him in contempt of court and imposing a a $9,000 fine for making public statements from his Truth Social account about people connected to the criminal case.

“There is no crime. I have a crooked judge. He’s a totally conflicted judge,” Trump told supporters at an event in Waukesha, Wisconsin, claiming again that this and other cases against him are led by the White House to undermine his 2024 campaign to win back the presidency.

Trump insists he is merely exercising his free speech rights, but the offending posts from his Truth Social account and campaign website were taken down. He has said he plans to testify at his trial.

If Trump continued to violate his orders, Merchan said, he would “impose an incarceratory punishment.” In issuing the original gag order in March, Merchan cited Trump’s history of “threatening, inflammatory, denigrating” remarks about people involved in his legal cases.

Prosecutors want to directly tie Trump to payments that were made to silence women with damaging claims about him before the 2016 presidential election.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying internal Trump Organization business records but denies any wrongdoing. The charges stem from things like invoices and checks that were deemed legal expenses in Trump Organization records when prosecutors say they were really reimbursements to his attorney and fixer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 hush money payment to porn performer Stormy Daniels.

Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C. Michelle L. Price and Michael R. Sisak contributed from New York.