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Hush money trial: Trump faces possibility of additional sanctions for violating gag order

NEW YORK (AP) — Prosecutors in Donald Trump’s case silent money test sought additional sanctions for his out-of-court comments Thursday before testimony from a lawyer who represented two women who have said they had sexual encounters with the former president.

The testimony of attorney Keith Davidson is considered a vital element to the prosecution’s case that Trump and his allies planned to bury unflattering stories in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Davidson is one of multiple key players expected be called to the stand before prosecutors’ star witness, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal intermediary.

What to know about Trump’s hush money trial:

But before testimony began, prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office sought $1,000 fines for each of Trump’s four comments that they said violated a judge’s gag order barring him from attacking Trump. witnesses, jurors and other people closely related to the case. This sanction would be added to the $9,000 fine that Judge Juan M. Merchan imposed Tuesday related to nine separate violations of the gag order he found.

“The defendant is talking about the witnesses and the jury in this case, one right here outside this door,” said prosecutor Christopher Conroy. “This is the most critical moment, the moment when you have to protect the procedure.”

“His statements are corrosive to this procedure and to the fair administration of justice,” Conroy added.

Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, responded that Trump’s candidacy and the enormous media attention he receives have made it impossible not to be asked or commented on the trial.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to media outside his trial courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York.  (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to media outside his trial courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

“You can’t just say without comment repeatedly. He’s running for president,” Blanche said.

Merchan did not immediately comment on the request for new sanctions, although he indicated that he was not particularly concerned about one of the four statements pointed out by prosecutors.

But the mere prospect of greater punishment underscored the challenges Trump, the presidential candidate, faces in adapting to the role of a criminal defendant subject to rigid judicial protocol that he does not control. It also remains to be seen whether any rebuke from the court will lead Trump to adjust his behavior given the campaign benefit he believes he gains by presenting the case as politically motivated.

Republican presidential candidate Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Freeland, Michigan, Wednesday, May 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
FILE - Pedestrians walk past the Nasdaq building as the stock price of Trump Media & Technology Group Corp. is displayed on screens, March 26, 2024, in New York.  A Delaware judge on Tuesday, April 30, accepted a request from lawyers for Donald Trump and Trump Media & Technology Group, parent company of his Truth Social platform, to stop a lawsuit filed by two co-founders of the company.  (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

During a one-day recess in the trial on Wednesday, Trump maintained his condemnation of the case, although he made no comments that would go against the gag order.

“There is no crime,” he told supporters in Waukesha, Wisconsin. “I have a corrupt judge, he is a totally conflictive judge.”

The trial, now in its second week of testimony, has exposed the underbelly of tabloid journalism practices and the protections, for a price, afforded to Trump during his successful 2016 run for the presidency.

The case concerns money paid to silence embarrassing stories, even from a porn actor and a former Playboy modeland Trump refunds that prosecutors say were intentionally fraudulent and designed to conceal the true purpose of the payments and interfere in the election.

Former National Enquirer editor David Pecker testified last week who offered to be the “eyes and ears” of the Trump campaign and described in detail his role in buying a sordid story from a New York City bouncer that was later determined not to be true, as well as the accusations of an extramarital affair with former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to media outside his trial courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York.  (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

Former President Donald Trump speaks to media outside his trial courtroom in Manhattan Criminal Court, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. (Curtis Means/Pool Photo via AP)

The goal was to prevent the stories from coming to light, a concern that was especially noted after the release of a 2005 recording of “Access Hollywood” in which he was heard describing how he grabbed women without their permission.

Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and personal fixer, made a separate payment of $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels to prevent her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 from coming to light.

Trump’s company then reimbursed Cohen and recorded the payments to him as legal expenses, prosecutors said in charging the former president with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — charge punishable by up to four years in prison.

Davidson represented both Daniels and McDougal in their negotiations with the National Enquirer and Cohen.

He testified that he set up a meeting at his Los Angeles office during the summer of 2016 to see if the tabloid’s parent company, American Media Inc., was interested in McDougal’s story. At first, they objected, saying she “lacked documentary evidence of the interaction,” Davidson testified.

But the tabloid, at Pecker’s urging, eventually bought the rights, and Davidson testified that he understood (and McDougal preferred) that it would never be published. One reason for this, he said, is that there was an “unspoken affiliation” between Pecker and Trump and the desire of the company that owns the Enquirer not to publish stories that would harm Trump.