Trump legal news brief: Judge Merchan expands gag order after Trump goes after his daughter

Following several attacks on his daughter by former President Donald Trump, Judge Juan Merchan expands his gag order in the hush money trial to include family members. Hope Hicks, who served as former President Donald Trump’s press secretary and communications director in the 2016 campaign, is expected to be called as a witness in the New York hush money trial that begins on April 15, a source tells MSNBC. Since leaving her post as a top White House adviser in 2018, Hicks has testified before the New York grand jury investigating Trump’s payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, as well as before the House Jan. 6 select committee. Here are the latest legal developments facing the presumptive Republican presidential nominee for 2024.

New York hush money

Judge expands gag order

Key players: Judge Juan Merchan, Democratic political consultant Loren Merchan, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

  • On Monday, the New York judge in the hush money trial set to begin on April 15 expanded the gag order he placed on Trump meant to prevent him from attacking potential witnesses, jury members, and court staff so that it now includes family members of that group, the Associated Press reported.

  • “This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose,” Merchan wrote in his order. “It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game,’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

  • On Truth Social, Trump’s social media platform, the former president had targeted the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, falsely accusing her of posting a photo of Trump behind bars and claiming that she “makes money by working to ‘Get Trump.’”

  • Earlier in the day, Bragg had asked the judge to expand the gag order, saying Trump’s “dangerous, violent, and reprehensible rhetoric fundamentally threatens the integrity of these proceedings.”

Why it matters: Merchan has shown little hesitation to rule against Trump in the case so far, and Trump has seemed intent on pushing the judge’s limits. If that continues and Trump defies the judge’s orders, he could face the prospect of jail time.

Source: Hope Hicks to testify in hush money case

Key players: Former communications director and press secretary for Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign Hope Hicks, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, adult film star Stormy Daniels, former Playboy model Karen McDougal, former American Media, Inc. CEO David Pecker, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg

  • Bragg will call Hicks as a prosecution witness in the hush money trial that begins on April 15, a source told MSNBC.

  • Last year, Hicks testified before the New York grand jury that voted to indict Trump on charges that he broke campaign finance and tax laws when he paid Daniels in 2016 to hide an alleged extramarital affair.

  • Cohen alleges that Hicks was part of a phone call that took place on Oct. 8, 2016, during which Daniels told Trump she was going to share her story of the affair with the National Enquirer.

  • Hicks, according to Cohen, was also on a call during which a deal was reached for Trump to pay Daniels $130,000 for her silence.

  • Hicks went on to become a top White House adviser to Trump following his victory in the 2016 election, but stepped down in 2018.

  • Hicks also testified before the House Jan. 6 select committee that she told Trump that there wasn’t evidence to support his claims that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged.”

  • Prosecutors say Pecker met Trump in 2015 and set up a “catch or kill” arrangement by which the National Enquirer would pay McDougal for her story about an alleged extramarital affair with Trump only to keep it from ever being published.

  • Pecker and McDougal are also both expected to be called as witnesses during the trial.

Why it matters: While Hicks was long a trusted member of Trump’s inner circle, she has cooperated with those who have investigated the former president’s conduct. If Bragg does call her to the witness stand, it will be because he believes she will bolster his case.

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