Prosecutors Demand Trump Halt Attacks on Judge's Daughter

Former President's Social Media Post Sparks Legal Controversy.

by Nouman Rasool
Prosecutors Demand Trump Halt Attacks on Judge's Daughter
© Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

In a new twist sure to grab the country's attention, a legal team representing the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has formally asked Judge Juan Merchan to shore up the terms of a previously established gag order in the high-profile case against former President Donald Trump.

That request came in the aftermath of the controversial online comments of Trump regarding the daughter of the judge—a matter that has sparked huge debate and concern.
The controversy began to unfold two days after Trump had been rebuked by Judge Merchan in a limited gag order aimed at curbing public comments about people implicated in his New York hush-money case.

"Mr. Trump's comments raised a significant question for the boundaries of free speech and the protection of people associated with judicial proceedings. This, to be issued on the 26th, would be precisely to prevent the former president from going public with any comments on potential witnesses, jurors, lawyers, and court staff and their families but would allow him to be flexible in order to comment on the judge and district attorney.

But Mr. Trump's subsequent social media activity, including his attack on Ms. Merchan's daughter, emboldened his legal team in the Manhattan District Attorney's office to seek clarification of the order and strengthening it. In this regard, they requested the court to expressly prohibit attacks on family members of the court, district attorney, and others that may be named in the order, requiring an order of respectful and lawful discourse.

Trump Defies Gag Order

The situation escalated when Trump openly defied the gag order, claiming it infringed on his rights to free speech. He, however, made strong comments on the alleged social media activity of the daughter of Merchan, who posted what he concluded was against him, but later on, court officials cleared the post, stating that it had been manipulated and came from an inactive account.

In response, the prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, wrote a letter to Judge Merchan asking that the gag order go so far as to include protection for family members of all persons involved in the case. Steinglass noted that the potential witness, and his or her family, may fear for their safety with such testimony and therefore might not make an appearance on April 15 for the trial.

Blanche's defense team rebuffed the prosecutor's plea, arguing that the terms of the gag order do not, by express language, reach Merchan's family; hence, it does not limit Trump from making his statements. This legal back-and-forth makes clear how tangled the interplay between legal constraints and principles of free expression has become.

Trump, who had pleaded not guilty last April in a 34-count indictment related to falsifying business records in connection with a hush-money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, has remained defiant. As the trial date nears, the case continues to highlight tensions between the judicial process and the far-reaching tentacles of social media.

All of that sets up a legal showdown with implications that could reach much further than only how gag orders are interpreted in the digital era.