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Trump fined $9,000 US, ordered to take down some social media posts about trial

Donald Trump has been held in contempt of court and fined $9,000 US for repeatedly violating a gag order that barred him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to his New York hush money case. If he does it again, the judge warned, he could be jailed. 

Former president found in contempt of court during New York hush money case for making public statements

Trump, in a blue suit and red tie sits with his hands on the table in front of him. Several police officers are behind him in the courtroom.
Former U.S. president Donald Trump awaits the start of proceedings at Manhattan criminal court on Tuesday in New York. The judge in his hush money trial found him in contempt of court, fining him and threatening him with jail time if he continues to violate a gag order. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

Donald Trump was held in contempt of court Tuesday and fined $9,000 US for repeatedly violating a gag order that barred him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to his New York hush money case.

If he does it again, the judge warned, he could be jailed. 

Prosecutors had alleged 10 violations, but New York Judge Juan M. Merchan found there were nine. The ruling was a stinging rebuke for the former president and presumptive 2024 Republican nominee, who had insisted he was exercising his free speech rights.

Merchan wrote that Trump "is hereby warned that the Court will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment."

Among those he found to be violations, Merchan ruled that a Trump post quoting Fox News host Jesse Watters's claim that liberal activists were lying to infiltrate the jury "constitutes a clear violation" of the gag order. Merchan noted that the words contained within the quotation marks in Trump's April 17 post misstated what Watters actually said.

LISTEN | The Washington Post's court reporter on the hush money trial: 

Trump stared down at the table in front of him as the judge read the ruling, frowning slightly. 

He has been campaigning in his off-hours, but is required to be in court when it is in session, four days a week. Outside the courtroom, Trump criticized prosecutors again. 

"This is a case that should have never been brought," he said. 

Trump must pay this week, remove social media posts

The ruling came at the start of the second week of testimony in the historic case. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump and his associates took part in an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential campaign by burying negative stories. He has pleaded not guilty. 

Trump must pay the fine by the close of business on Friday, Merchan said in a written ruling. The former president deleted, as ordered, the offending posts from his Truth Social account and campaign website Tuesday. 

Men in suits and ties are shown walking indoors.
Eric Trump, left, is shown at New York State Supreme Court on Thursday, with the former president. (Curtis Means/Reuters)

Through detailed testimony on email exchanges, business transactions and bank accounts, prosecutors are forming the foundation of their argument that Trump is guilty of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments.

Witness testimony advanced Tuesday with banker Gary Farro, who began testifying in the case last week.

Also called to the stand was Keith Davidson, a lawyer who represented former Playboy model Karen McDougal and Stephanie Clifford, known as porn actor Stormy Daniels, in hush money negotiations.

Clifford has alleged she had a one-time sexual encounter with Trump, while McDougal has stated in a media interview she carried on a monthslong affair with Trump many years ago. Trump has denied the allegations.

Farro, who is not accused of wrongdoing, testified on Tuesday that Cohen used a shell company to wire the $130,000 payment to Daniels's lawyer.

34 felony counts

Jurors previously heard from two other witnesses. Trump's former longtime executive assistant Rhona Graff recounted that she recalled once seeing Daniels at Trump's office suite in Trump Tower and figured the performer was a potential contestant for one of Trump's Apprentice-brand shows.

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker laid out how he agreed to serve as the Trump campaign's "eyes and ears" by helping to squelch unflattering rumours and claims about Trump and women.

WATCH l 'Sleazy' hush payments aren't the alleged crime here, ex-prosecutor says:

Why Trump prosecution is focusing on campaign finance violation, election interference

2 months ago
Duration 1:09
Former federal prosecutor Joseph Moreno explains why hush money payments weren't illegal, but the way they were concealed may have been.

The prosecution is leading up to crucial testimony from Cohen himself, who went to federal prison after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other crimes. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty. 

It's unclear when Cohen will take the stand; the trial is expected to go on another month or more. And with every moment Trump is in court as the first of his four criminal trials plays out, he's growing increasingly frustrated while the November election moves ever closer.

Trump faces four separate indictments, the first former president to face any criminal charges. Legal wrangling and hearings, including pending Supreme Court decisions, have meant that two federal trials and a Georgia indictment he faces have yet to proceed to trial.

With files from CBC News and Reuters