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Trump’s lawyers ask judge to lift gag order imposed during New York trial

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NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyers are asking a New York judge to lift the gag order that barred the former president from commenting about witnesses, jurors and others tied to the criminal case that led to his conviction for falsifying records to cover up a potential sex scandal.

In a letter Tuesday, Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove asked Judge Juan M. Merchan to end the gag order, arguing there is nothing to justify “continued restrictions on the First Amendment rights of President Trump” now that the trial is over.

Among other reasons, the lawyers said Trump is entitled to “unrestrained campaign advocacy” in light of President Joe Biden’s public comments about the verdict last Friday, and continued public criticism of him by his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen and porn actor Stormy Daniels, both key prosecution witnesses.

Trump’s lawyers also contend the gag order must go away so he’s free to fully address the case and his conviction with the first presidential debate scheduled for June 27.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Merchan issued Trump’s gag order on March 26, a few weeks before the start of the trial, after prosecutors raised concerns about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s propensity to attack people involved in his cases.

Merchan later expanded it to prohibit comments about his own family after Trump made social media posts attacking the judge’s daughter, a Democratic political consultant. Comments about Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg are allowed, but the gag order bars statements about court staff and members of Bragg’s prosecution team.

Trump was convicted Thursday of 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels just before the 2016 election. She claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 11.

Prosecutors had said they wanted the gag order to “protect the integrity of this criminal proceeding and avoid prejudice to the jury.” In the order, Merchan noted prosecutors had sought the restrictions “for the duration of the trial.” He did not specify when they would be lifted.

Blanche told the Associated Press last Friday that it was his understanding the gag order would expire when the trial ended and that he would seek clarity from Merchan, which he did on Tuesday.

“It’s a little bit of the theater of the absurd at this point, right? Michael Cohen is no longer a witness in this trial,” Blanche told the AP. “The trial is over. The same thing with all the other witnesses. So, we’ll see. I don’t mean that in any way as being disrespectful of the judge and the process. I just want to be careful and understand when it no longer applies.”

Trump has continued to operate under the belief that he’s still muzzled, telling reporters Friday at Trump Tower: “I’m under a gag order, nasty gag order.”

Referring to Cohen, Trump said, “I’m not allowed to use his name because of the gag order” before slamming his former lawyer-turned-courtroom foe as “a sleazebag.”

During the trial, Merchan held Trump in contempt of court, fined him $10,000 for violating the gag order and threatened to put him in jail if he did it again.

Trump’s use of the term “sleazebag” to describe Cohen just before the trial rankled prosecutors, but was not considered a gag order violation by the judge. Merchan declined to sanction Trump for an April 10 social media post, which referred to Cohen and Daniels, another key prosecution witness, by that insult.

The judge said at the time that Trump’s contention that he was responding to previous posts by Cohen that were critical of him “is sufficient to give” him pause on whether prosecutors met their burden in demonstrating that the post was out of bounds.

Associated Press