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Trump Says Gag Order Jail Sentence Would Be “Sacrifice” to Protect Speech Rights

Trump has violated the court-imposed gag order a total of 10 times.

Former President Donald Trump looks at a piece of paper as he speaks to the media at his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on May 7, 2024, in New York City.

After being warned by the judge in his New York trial over continued violations of his gag order, former President Donald Trump errantly framed himself as being deprived of his First Amendment speech rights, and appeared to vow that he would break the order sometime in the near future.

Trump has been accused of hiding hush money payments to women with whom he had extramarital affairs, using illegal bookkeeping measures to ensure that the affairs were concealed from the public ahead of the 2016 election. Justice Juan Merchan, the judge overseeing the case, placed a gag order on Trump earlier this year when it became apparent that Trump’s rants on social media and elsewhere could intimidate jurors or witnesses, thereby influencing the outcome of the case.

Last week, Merchan found that Trump had violated the order nine times. On Monday, he agreed with prosecutors that Trump had violated the order for a tenth time. He also warned Trump, for a second time, that further violations could result in a contempt of court jail sentence.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent. Therefore, going forward, this court will have to consider a jail sanction,” Merchan told Trump.

Merchan added:

Mr. Trump, it’s important to understand the last thing I want to do is put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next one as well. … The magnitude of this decision is not lost on me, but at the end of the day I have a job to do.

“As much as I don’t want to impose a jail sanction… I want you to understand that I will if necessary and appropriate,” Merchan went on.

Speaking to reporters after the gag order hearing, Trump lambasted the ruling and Merchan’s statement, claiming that his speech rights were being violated and implying that he was unafraid to break the gag order again.

“Our Constitution is much more important than jail. It’s not even close. I’ll do that sacrifice any day,” Trump said.

The 2024 GOP candidate for president reiterated that claim in a campaign email to his donors later that day, telling them that “the liberal judge in New York just threatened to THROW ME IN JAIL.”

Trump’s characterization of the gag order as a violation of his constitutional rights is wrong. Such orders, when imposed in a fair manner, protect other aspects of the Constitution, including ensuring the right to a fair trial. Trump is still free to exercise his speech in other ways, including describing the trial as unjust and even attacking the judge’s credibility if he chooses.

Notably, after issuing a Truth Social post on Tuesday discussing probable witnesses being called to testify, Trump immediately deleted the post, indicating that either he or his lawyers understood the gravity of the gag order.

Trump may believe his repeated violations of the gag order are boosting his image among his base, but polling indicates that the violations aren’t having the same effect on voters overall. In polling published by CNN last week, a plurality of Americans (42 percent) said Trump’s behavior during the trial so far has been “mostly inappropriate,” while only 25 percent described it as “mostly appropriate.”

Meanwhile, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll published this week found that 65 percent of Americans expect Trump to be found guilty when the trial is concluded. And a recent Economist/YouGov poll found that more voters than not believe he should be found guilty, with 44 percent expressing that view and only 38 percent saying he should be found not guilty.

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