Trump gag orders in NY civil fraud case should remain, AG says

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump should remain barred from speaking publicly about court staff in his civil fraud trial, the New York attorney general’s office said on Wednesday.

The judge overseeing the case, Justice Arthur Engoron, issued the gag order on Oct. 3 after the former U.S. president shared on social media a photo of the judge’s law clerk posing with U.S. Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer’s girlfriend.” The post left the court “inundated” with hundreds of threats made by Trump supporters, Engoron said.

Engoron in November extended the order, barring the parties’ lawyers from commenting on the clerk’s communications with the court.

Trump last month appealed, arguing the orders violated his constitutional right to free speech. A judge at the mid-level state appeals court, known as the Appellate Division, paused the orders on Nov. 16, but a full panel reinstated them two weeks later. “The court issued the orders in response to extraordinary and dangerous personal attacks made against the court’s staff by both petitioner Donald J. Trump and petitioners’ counsel during trial,” the New York attorney general’s office said in a filing on Wednesday.

The filing says that Trump and his lawyers “repeatedly made baseless, highly inappropriate, and personally identifying attacks against the court’s principal law clerk” and that the attacks continued despite multiple warnings

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused in the case brought by New York’s attorney general of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars to dupe lenders and insurers.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said New York Attorney General Letitia James, an elected Democrat who brought the case, is politically biased against him.

Trump is expected to testify as the final defense witness on Dec. 11.

James has said Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his businesses manipulated financial statements to dupe banks and insurers into providing more favorable loan and insurance terms.

The trial largely concerns damages, because Engoron has already found that Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent.

James is seeking $250 million in penalties, and wants Trump banned from New York state real estate business.

Trump faces four unrelated federal and state criminal indictments, including two over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.

None of them have dented his commanding lead in the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next November’s election.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis)