Judge’s warning provides dilemma for Trump over whether he will risk jail for a political point


Donald Trump and the judge presiding over his hush money trial look at each other with profound implications for the former president, the upcoming election, and the rule of law in the United States.

Juan Merchan is now closer than any judge in American history to putting a former president behind bars next Put a red line He says he may have no choice but to enforce if Trump doesn’t start abiding by the rules.

Merchan on Monday found that Trump again violated a gag order barring attacks on witnesses, jurors and others, days after he fined them $1,000 each for nine previous violations. But he noted that the defendant did not understand the message and warned that he would have to escalate if necessary and appropriate in the future, as much as he saw the option as a “last resort.”

“Mr. Trump, it’s important that you understand that the last thing I want to do is put you in jail,” Merchant said in a surreal moment Monday morning, directly addressing the presumptive GOP nominee and billionaire defendant fined another $1,000 over comments about choosing The jury acquitted him of three other prosecution allegations of violating gag orders.

The judge’s warning to Trump, who was sitting at the defense table in court, represented an unusual reversal in the power dynamic of a former president – ​​a member of an exclusive club that commands a ubiquitous respect for life. Trump may be the most famous man in the world and dominate every room he enters, but Merchant is trying to send the message that in his court he is the only source of power.

But his warning also came as a call for Trump to stop this kind of behavior that would force the judge to make his fateful decision that he will always remember. But he also left the impression that he could not allow the court – or a jury serving in a highly sensitive trial at a time of intense political turmoil – to be attacked.

“At the end of the day, I have a job and part of that job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system and enforce respect,” Merchan continued. “Your continued violations of the legal order of this court threaten to interfere with the administration of justice in sustained attacks, which constitute a direct attack on the rule of law.”

“I can’t let this continue.”

The judge’s words put him in a box. If Trump ignores his warning and continues to violate his order, his credibility and ability to control his own courtroom means he may have no choice but to escalate.

His warning also placed the former president — who has weaponized the four criminal indictments against him in a narrative of political martyrdom — in a dilemma of his own. Is he willing to test the judge, continue to criticize jurors and witnesses, and risk prison time – perhaps to bolster his claim of persecution that forms the basis of his bid for a new term? Or would he simply stop right before class, in a rare example of bowing down to an opponent who tried to modify his behavior.

Eli Honig, a senior legal expert at CNN, said he still believes it is unlikely that Trump will end up in prison for contempt of court. But he added: “I think the judge made a mark.” The judge gave Trump every benefit of the doubt when it came to the gag order. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any other criminal defendant enjoying similar freedom from a judge with respect to sustained attacks on the integrity of the trial, the court, and the legal system.

The timing of the judge’s warning was important as several moments of maximum stress approach Trump with testimony expected soon from his former lawyer Michael Cohen and former porn star Stormy Daniels.

Jack O’Donnell, former president and chief operating officer of Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, questioned whether Trump would be able to maintain control — especially in his late-night social media posts. “The bigger question is whether he will intentionally violate the order, and I think there’s a very good chance he will test the boundaries because that’s part of Trump’s DNA,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett. O’Donnell added: “I think there’s a piece inside him that wants to challenge this guy to put him in prison.”

Monday’s turn of events sparked speculation about how any custodial sentence would be enacted. This is a very complex question given Trump’s identity and his unique security requirements as a former president under 24-hour Secret Service protection.

After court on Monday, Trump criticized Merchan’s new rebukes, but appeared to stop short of testing the gag order in a possible sign that he is considering his strategy. This was consistent with his more cautious behavior since Merchan’s initial contempt findings last week.

“I have to watch every word I say to you people. ‘You’re asking me a question, a simple question, I would ask it but I can’t talk about it because this judge gave me a gag order and said you’re going to go to jail if you violate it,'” Trump told reporters before teasing. The risks to his future behavior. “Frankly, you know, our Constitution is much more important than prison, and it’s not even close. “I would make that sacrifice any day.”

As with his previous offers in multiple cases to testify that often went unproven, it was not clear whether Trump’s words were bravery for political influence or a considered stance.

There is little sign that the trial, over whether Trump falsified business records in a payment to hide an alleged affair with Daniels before the 2016 election, has captured the national imagination or is doing much to change Trump’s dogfight. To the White House with President Joe Biden. Trump denied the case and pleaded not guilty. But the shocking development of Merchan detaining a former president, even for a few hours — a possibility within his powers under the law — would represent an extraordinary development in Trump’s already norm-shattering political career, and could lead to unpredictable political consequences.

Trump’s frequent use of dramatic moments related to the four criminal indictments against him to drum up support and political contributions — for example, when he had his photo taken in a notorious Atlanta prison in connection with the Georgia election interference case — means the possibility that he is able to test his resolve cannot be ruled out. Merchan, whether intentionally or in a fit of anger.

Monday’s brief episode between Merchan and Trump summed up in just a few sentences the unprecedented circumstances of the first impeachment trial of a former president, the collision between Trump’s criminal trials and the 2024 election, and the broader ramifications of the former president’s assault on institutions. She holds him accountable but often faces dire consequences for doing so.

The meeting was also a clear embodiment of the principle that everyone – even former presidents – are subject to the same treatment under the law and must obey the same rules to protect the integrity of the legal process. Through his daily criticism of the media outside the courtroom – and his scathing social media posts – Trump has shown that he has no respect for such judicial niceties. His refusal to accept defeat in the 2020 election and false claims of fraud show his disdain for the rule of law in general.

The judge’s comments also included a rare acknowledgment of the political context of the trial, which is taking place six months before the general election and which will keep the former president in court four days a week until it concludes.

“You are the former president of the United States and perhaps the next president as well,” he told Trump. “There are many reasons why prison is a last resort for me.” The judge noted the disruption such a move would cause to the case itself – with the prosecution anticipating another two weeks of testimony – and the impact that carrying out a prison sentence would have on the people wanted to carry it out.

There are several possible reasons why voters may not be swayed by this first impeachment of a former president. A lot of the certifications so far have been technical and difficult to follow. On Monday, for example, prosecutors took former Trump employees through complex financial transactions to establish a paper trail for future testimony from prominent witnesses. The trial is also not televised, meaning its ability to penetrate popular culture is limited. Some legal experts believe that the secret money trial is much less serious than Trump’s trials for election interference and his hoarding of secret documents, which seem unlikely to take place before the election.

But that could change if Merchan sends Trump to a cell under the courthouse in Manhattan or to an isolation room for even a few hours of confinement.

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