Gag order reinstated in Trump’s fraud trial

A state appeals court in New York has reinstated a gag order in Donald Trump’s fraud trial, after court officials revealed the wave of death threats and attacks against members of the court staff.

New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron put the gag order in place to protect his chief clerk and other court staff from the former president’s abuse and subsequent attacks that have flooded his office.

A state appellate court judge temporarily froze the orders earlier this month, “considering the constitutional and statutory rights at issue”.

On Thursday, the appeals court allowed the gag orders to stand.

Moments later, Mr Trump lashed out on his Truth Social account with a series of attacks and unfounded claims about the judge and his family, including his wife and their son.

Judge Engoron and his principal law clerk Allison Greenfield received “hundreds of threats, disparaging and harassing comments and antisemitic messages” that followed the former president’s harassment, according to a recent court filing.

Transcriptions of threatening voicemails after Mr Trump first targeted Judge Engoron’s chief clerk fill more than 275 single-spaced pages, according to the filing from Charles Hollon, an officer-captain with the court’s Department of Public Safety assigned to a judicial threats unit.

The threats against them are “serious and credible and not hypothetical or speculative,” he wrote.

A lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James accuses the former president, his two adult sons and chief business associates in his Trump Organization empire of grossly inflating his net worth and assets in financial statements given to banks and lenders to receive favourable financing terms.

Judge Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraud.

The trial stemming from the lawsuit, now in its ninth week, threatens to collapse his real estate empire in the state and could result in tens of millions of dollars in fines against the defendants.

On the trial’s second day, Mr Trump amplified false claims about Ms Greenfield on his Truth Social and steps outside Judge Engoron’s courtroom, prompting the judge to order Mr Trump to delete the “untrue” and “disparaging” statements before issuing a gag order that blocks all parties in the trial from attacking the court’s staff.

The judge later found that Mr Trump violated the order twice, incurring $15,000 in fines. He also extended the order to include Mr Trump’s attorneys, who then appealed.

On Monday, his attorneys appeared to downplay the threats that have inundated the court, claiming that the “sole cognizable justification” to gag the former president “is that an unknown third party may react in a hostile or offensive manner” to his speech.

“Since before the trial began and continuing thereafter, certain individuals, to whom there is no indication Petitioners have any connection or exercise any control, have engaged in behavior that Petitioners do not condone,” according to the filing from Mr Trump’s legal team.

“The communications themselves, while vile and reprehensible, do not constitute a clear and present danger of imminent harm as required under established precedent,” they wrote.

Earlier this month, Judge Engoron shot down what he called “unpersuasive” First Amendment arguments from Mr Trump’s attorneys against his gag orders, pointing to threats of political violence that have surrounded the former president’s criminal and civil cases since his first indictment earlier this year.

The judge has repeatedly stressed that comments about him are fair game, but “the First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm,” he wrote.

After the gag order was paused, Mr Trump continued to berate the judge, the attorney general and the clerk on his Truth Social page.

Mr Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2024, is scheduled to appear on the witness stand in his civil trial for a second time next month.

In his previous testimony, he repeatedly insulted the attorney general, the judge overseeing the case, the trial itself and the lawyers who questioned him as he dodged responsibility for the allegedly fraudulent valuations of his net worth and assets.

Federal judges also are reviewing a gag order against Mr Trump in a case surrounding his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

During a hearing last week, a three-judge federal appeals court panel was skeptical of arguments from his legal team to overturn a gag order that blocks him from attacking witnesses and prosecutors in the criminal conspiracy case.