Wednesday, June 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Frown-faced Trump logs in for hearing on New York criminal case

A judge told the former president that he is free to talk about his prosecution on the 2024 campaign trail but to keep the government's evidence off social media.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Seven weeks after former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to hush-money charges, he returned to a New York courtroom, albeit virtually, for the judge to set the date for what will be the historic trial of the first U.S. president to ever face criminal charges.

The trial will start on March 25, 2024, while presidential primaries are underway, about three weeks after Super Tuesday on March 5.

“That is a date certain for the commencement of this trial,” New York Supreme Justice Judge Merchan said to those in person with him in the courtroom and to the former president appearing remotely on three large video monitors.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Trump used his Truth Social platform to frame the timing of the trial as "election interference."

"Just had New York County Supreme Court hearing where I believe my First Amendment Rights, 'Freedom of Speech,' have been violated, and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25th, right in the middle of Primary season," Trump wrote. "Very unfair, but this is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted."

In the hearing, the former president crossed his arms and frowned as the judge discussed the terms of a protective order that limits what trial materials Trump can review and otherwise bars him from disseminating any evidence provided to him during discovery to attack witnesses or prosecutors.

Merchan allowed Trump to videoconference in to the courtroom from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to avoid the security and logistical pandemonium that accompanied his arraignment last month. The former president faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations of extramarital sexual encounters.

Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles represented Trump at the hearing Tuesday, Necheles in person at the Manhattan criminal court building and Blanche appearing sitting beside Trump on the crisp HD videofeed.

Seated in front of two American flags adorned with ornamental gold fringe, draped diagonally, the former president intermittently spoke to Blanche, but the desk conversation was not heard on the remote feed.

Trump wore a blue suit with red striped tie, occasionally gesturing to his lawyer with his hands and clasped them together throughout the hearing.

Joe Tacopina, another of Trump's defense attorneys, was absent from the hearing.

After Blanche assured Merchan that he explained the court’s order directly to Trump, the judge waived a line-by-line reading of the protective order.

"Mr. Trump do you have a copy of that protective order?" Merchan asked. “Yes, I do,” Trump said, lifting up a copy.

Blanche told the judge that Trump is a "leading contender" in the 2024 presidential race and is "concerned his First Amendment rights are being violated by this protective order.”

“It’s certainly not a gag order,” the judge remarked, insisting that Trump is not restrained from campaigning in the presidential election, in which he is currently frontrunner of the 2024 GOP presidential field. “He’s free to deny the charges, he’s free to defend himself against the allegations, he’s free to speak about the case and defend himself subject to limitation of the Protective Order.”

Trump will be allowed to speak publicly about the case, but he risks being found in contempt and punished, the judge said, if he violates the instructions of the protective order by using evidence turned over by prosecutors to target witnesses or others involved in the case.

The protective order, signed by Merchan on May 8, enumerates what the former president cannot do with discovery materials obtained from the Manhattan DA’s office in the pretrial discovery process.

Specifically the judge ordered Trump to not post, distribute or even share any information derived from that discovery “to any news or social media platforms, including, but not limited, to Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, or YouTube, without prior approval from the Court.”

Earlier on Tuesday morning, Trump took to his Truth Social online platform to repeat his denials of columnist E. Jean Carroll’s allegation that he raped her in a dressing room at the Bergdorf Goodman department store in the mid-1990s.

Trump’s indignant online repudiation reprises his appearance at live “town hall” event on CNN the day after jurors in Manhattan federal court ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million for sexually abusing and then defaming her, where the former president told a national audience that Carroll was a “whack job” who made up the story. 

Carroll has a separate complaint against Trump and she amended it Monday to seek “a very substantial punitive damages award” over his comments in the wake of the May 9 verdict, saying Trump and others must be punished and deterred from further defamation.

Categories:Criminal, Politics, Trials

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.