The judge overseeing the civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump and his company threatened “serious sanctions” — including potential imprisonment — against the ex-president Friday after Trump appeared to violate the gag order barring him from speaking about the court’s staff, multiple outlets reported.
Judge Arthur Engoron imposed a gag order against parties in the case on October 3 that prohibited speaking publicly about the court’s staff, after Trump made a disparaging Truth Social post about one of Engoron’s clerks.
The post was removed from Truth Social on October 3, hours after being posted and right before the gag order was issued, but stayed up on Trump’s website until Thursday night, right after reports on social media emerged that it was still online and the court emailed Trump to remove it.
At the start of trial Friday, Engoron called the post being left up a “blatant violation of the gag order,” as quoted by the Messenger, and asked Trump’s lawyers to explain why it shouldn’t result in “serious sanctions,” including being held in contempt, fines or “possibly imprisoning him.”
Trump attorney Christopher Kise told the judge that the post being left up was an “inadvertent” mistake due to Trump’s “very large [campaign] operation,” ABC News reports.
Engoron said he would take the issue under advisement, but added he “want[s] to make clear that Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine, even if it is a large machine,” according to ABC.
“Despite this clear order, last night I learned that the subject offending post was never removed from [the Trump campaign’s website], in fact had been on that website for the past 17 days,” Engoron said, as quoted by ABC. “Incendiary untruths can, and in some cases already had, lead to serious physical harm.”
“The Truth Social post was taken down when the court asked,” Kise said Friday, as quoted by NBC News. “Truth Social was taken down and Trump never made any more comments about court staff, but it appears no one took it down on the campaign website. It is unfortunate and I apologize on behalf of my client.”
What To Watch For
The fraud trial is expected to continue until mid-December, and Trump is expected at some point to testify. New York Attorney General Letitia James is accusing the ex-president, his business associates—including his sons—and the Trump Organization of fraudulently inflating the value of their assets to obtain more favorable business deals and boost Trump’s net worth, which Trump and his co-defendants deny. The allegations could result in serious consequences for Trump’s business: Engoron has already ordered Trump’s business certificates to be canceled after finding him liable for fraud, and other penalties could include a $250 million fine and barring the ex-president from running New York companies or making commercial real estate acquisitions.
Trump has routinely attacked prosecutors, judges and other parties as legal cases against him have piled up, fueling speculation over whether judges would ever restrict the former president’s speech. Engoron became the first judge to formally impose a gag order on Trump with his October order, though its narrow scope still allows Trump to freely criticize him, James and most others involved with the case. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan then followed earlier this week, imposing a gag order on Trump Monday in the federal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. That order prohibits him from making public statements that “target” Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith or his staff; defense counsel and their staff; any court staff or “any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony.” Chutkan did not specify what penalties Trump could face if he violates the order. Trump has appealed Chutkan’s gag order, which he’s decried as a violation of his freedom of speech as he runs for president.