NATIONAL NEWS

Judge conducts hearing on request to hold Trump in contempt for social media posts

Apr 23, 2024, 8:15 AM

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Former U.S. President Donald Trump with lawyer Todd Blanche (L),  at...

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 23: Former U.S. President Donald Trump with lawyer Todd Blanche (L), at his trial for his trial for allegedly covering up hush money payments at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 23, 2024 in New York City. Former U.S. President Donald Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in the first of his criminal cases to go to trial. (Photo by Timothy A. Clary-Pool/Getty Images)

(Photo by Timothy A. Clary-Pool/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge held a hearing Tuesday on prosecutors’ request to hold Donald Trump in contempt of court and fine him for social media posts that they say violated a gag order.

Prosecutors in the historic hush money case cited 10 posts on Trump’s social media account and campaign website that they said breached the order, which bars him from making public statements about witnesses in the case. They called the posts a “deliberate flouting” of the court’s order.

“The defendant has violated this order repeatedly, and he has not stopped,” said prosecutor Christopher Conroy, who said the Manhattan district attorney’s office would seek additional sanctions for Trump’s comments Monday to reporters outside the courtroom about Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer and the government’s star witness.

The hearing preceded the scheduled resumption of testimony in the case, with a longtime publisher expected back on the stand Tuesday to tell jurors about his efforts to help Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 campaign.

David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and Cohen on a strategy called “catch and kill” to suppress negative stories, testified briefly Monday.

Pecker’s testimony followed opening statements in which prosecutors alleged that Trump had sought to illegally influence the 2016 race by preventing damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public, including by approving hush money payments to a porn actor who alleged an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. Trump has denied that.

“This was a planned, long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad to say about his behavior,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

A defense lawyer countered by attacking the integrity of the onetime Trump confidant who’s now the government’s star witness.

“President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes. The Manhattan district attorney’s office should not have brought this case,” attorney Todd Blanche said.

The opening statements offered the 12-person jury and the voting public radically divergent roadmaps for a case that will unfold against the backdrop of a closely contested White House race in which Trump is not only the presumptive Republican nominee but also a criminal defendant facing the prospect of a felony conviction and prison.

The case is the first criminal trial of a former American president and the first of four prosecutions of Trump to reach a jury. Befitting that history, prosecutors sought from the outset to elevate the gravity of the case, which they said was chiefly about election interference as reflected by the hush money payments to a porn actor who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump.

“The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election. Then he covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again,” Colangelo said.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — a charge punishable by up to four years in prison — though it’s not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars. A conviction would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg revisits a years-old chapter from Trump’s biography when his celebrity past collided with his political ambitions and, prosecutors say, he scrambled to stifle stories that he feared could torpedo his campaign.

The opening statements served as an introduction to the colorful cast of characters that feature prominently in that tawdry saga, including Stormy Daniels, the porn actor who says she received the hush money; Cohen, the lawyer who prosecutors say paid her; and Pecker, who prosecutors say agreed to function as the campaign’s “eyes and ears.”

In his opening statement, Colangelo outlined a comprehensive effort by Trump and allies to prevent three stories — two from women alleging prior sexual encounters — from surfacing during the 2016 presidential campaign. That undertaking was especially urgent following the emergence late in the race of a 2005 “Access Hollywood” recording in which Trump could be heard boasting about grabbing women sexually without their permission.

“The impact of that tape on the campaign was immediate and explosive,” Colangelo said.

Within days of the “Access Hollywood” tape becoming public, Colangelo told jurors that The National Enquirer alerted Cohen that Daniels was agitating to go public with her claims of a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

“At Trump’s direction, Cohen negotiated a deal to buy Ms. Daniels’ story to prevent American voters from hearing that story before Election Day,” Colangelo told jurors.

But, the prosecutor noted, “Neither Trump nor the Trump Organization could just write a check to Cohen with a memo line that said ‘reimbursement for porn star payoff.'” So, he added, “they agreed to cook the books and make it look like the payment was actually income, payment for services rendered.”

Those alleged falsified records form the backbone of the 34-count indictment against Trump. Trump has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels.

Blanche, the defense lawyer, sought to preemptively undermine the credibility of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to his role in the hush money scheme, as someone with an “obsession” with Trump who cannot be trusted. He said Trump had done nothing illegal when his company recorded the checks to Cohen as legal expenses and said it was not against the law for a candidate to try to influence an election.

Blanche challenged the notion that Trump agreed to the Daniels payout to safeguard his campaign, characterizing the transaction instead as an attempt to squelch a “sinister” effort to embarrass Trump and his loved ones.

“President Trump fought back, like he always does, and like he’s entitled to do, to protect his family, his reputation and his brand, and that is not a crime,” Blanche told jurors.

The efforts to suppress the stories are what’s known in the tabloid industry as “catch-and-kill” — catching a potentially damaging story by buying the rights to it and then killing it through agreements that prevent the paid person from telling the story to anyone else.

Besides the payment to Daniels, Colangelo also described arrangements to pay a former Playboy model $150,000 to suppress claims of a nearly yearlong affair with the married Trump. Colangelo said Trump “desperately did not want this information about Karen McDougal to become public because he was worried about its effect on the election.”

He said jurors would hear a recording Cohen made in September 2016 of himself briefing Trump on the plan to buy McDougal’s story. The recording was made public in July 2018. Colangelo told jurors they will hear Trump in his own voice saying: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Pecker is relevant to the case because prosecutors say he met with Trump and Cohen at Trump Tower in August 2015 and agreed to help Trump’s campaign identify negative stories about him.

He described the tabloid’s use of “checkbook journalism,” a practice that entails paying a source for a story.

“I gave a number to the editors that they could not spend more than $10,000” on a story without getting his approval, he said.

___

Tucker reported from Washington.

KSL 5 TV Live

National News

The first FDA-approved pill to treat postpartum depression was approved a few months ago, and it's ...

Jessica Guay, CNN

New hope for moms with postpartum depression

The first FDA-approved pill to treat postpartum depression was approved a few months ago, and it's already helping moms in the Pittsburgh area.

19 hours ago

From left: Bro Chen Chuanyi, executive secretary of the Singapore Organisation of Seamen, and Gwee ...

Holly Yan, CNN

They’ve been stuck for 7 weeks on the ship that crashed into a Baltimore bridge. This is what life is like for the Dali crew

When the Rev. Mark Nestlehutt boarded the Dali cargo ship a week after it crashed into a Baltimore bridge, anxious questions emerged among the 21 crew members on board over a month later.

20 hours ago

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 9: Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) holds his notes as he speaks during a news confere...

Rio Yamat, Associated Press

An Arizona judge helped revive an 1864 abortion law. His lawmaker wife joined Democrats to repeal it

Lawmaker Shawnna Bolick, wife of Republican Arizona judge, joined Democrats to repeal an 1864 abortion law.

20 hours ago

TEMPE, ARIZONA - APRIL 17: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers attempts a shot on goaltender ...

Stephen Whyno, AP Sports Writer

Connor Ingram wins the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey

Connor Ingram, the goaltender for the Arizona Coyotes, has won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy after sharing his story with mental health struggles.

21 hours ago

Clockwise from top left: Jody Settle, Alberto Locascio, Tobias Noboa and Wilmard Santiago. (Courtes...

Ashley R. Williams, CNN

The Covid-19 public health emergency is over, but tales of loss remain. This website offers the bereaved a digital safe space

The "WhoWeLost" website was launched in 2020 in Kentucky and is home to around 2,000 published and yet-to-be-published stories. It serves as a digital haven for those still grieving COVID-19 where they can write about their losses in a comment-free environment without interactions, judgment or internet trolls.

21 hours ago

A ship is seen off the coast of Gaza near a US-built floating pier that will be used to facilitate ...

Colin McCullough, Jessie Yeung, Nadeen Ebrahim, and Lucas Lilieholm, CNN

US military starts delivering aid to Gaza through floating pier. Here’s what we know

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza have begun moving ashore after arriving through the floating pier built by the US military, according to the US Central Command (CENTCOM).

23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Judge conducts hearing on request to hold Trump in contempt for social media posts