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Why a judge limited what Trump can say in the hush money case

Because of Donald Trump's unfortunate history, a New York judge has limited what he can communicate about his hush money criminal case.


When Donald Trump was arrested early last month, there was a fair amount of speculation about whether the judge in the case would limit what the former president could say about the hush money case. Two prominent Republican committee chairs on Capitol Hill even issued a statement condemning the possibility of a so-called gag order.

The pushback proved unnecessary: Judge Juan Merchan declined to silence the defendant, though he urged Trump to “refrain from making statements that would incite violence or civil unrest.”

Ordinarily, such advice wouldn’t be necessary, but the former president has an unfortunate track record in this area.

A month later, however, Trump — who has routinely used his social media platform to whine about the case — is facing some new restrictions. NBC News reported:

The New York state judge presiding over the criminal hush money case against Donald Trump issued an order Monday restricting the former president from posting about some evidence in the case on social media. Judge Juan Merchan largely sided with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg by limiting what Trump can publicly disclose about new evidence from the prosecution before the case goes to trial.

These developments didn’t come out of nowhere. Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently told the judge they needed “safeguards” to “protect the integrity of the materials.”

In a court filing last month, they added, “Donald J. Trump has a longstanding and perhaps singular history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, trial jurors, grand jurors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him, putting those individuals and their families at considerable safety risk.”

With this in mind, the prosecutors went on to argue, there was a “substantial” risk that the defendant would misuse evidence “inappropriately.”

The former president’s attorneys said the proposed safeguards were “extremely restrictive,” but Trump couldn’t quite shake his own record. As such, as the NBC News report added, the defendant is confronting some new limits:

  • Anything his lawyers receive as part of pre-trial discovery “shall be used solely for the purposes of preparing a defense in this matter.”
  • Trump can’t “copy, disseminate or disclose” information received from state prosecutors to third parties, including by way of social media platforms, “without prior approval from the court.”
  • The former president can see sensitive information, but only in the presence of his lawyers, and he “shall not be permitted to copy, photograph, transcribe, or otherwise independently possess the Limited Dissemination Materials.”
  • Trump can’t review “forensic images of witness cell phones,” although his lawyers can show him “approved portions” of the images after they get permission from the judge.

So where does that leave us? The former president will still be able to complain about the charges, the judge in the case, and Bragg, just as he’s been doing. He’ll also be able to keep professing his innocence.

But the Republican and his legal defense team are poised to receive a lot of information from prosecutors, and even if Trump is tempted to misuse those materials, a judge has now made it clear that he can’t.

If the former president disapproves of these limits, he has no one to blame but himself.