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Judge holds ex-US President Trump in contempt, raises threat of jail and fines him $9,000

The judge’s suggestion that he may jail the former president signalled that Trump’s already precarious legal standing could further spiral depending on his behaviour during the trial.

trump 1NEW YORK: Donald Trump was held in contempt of court Tuesday and fined $9,000 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. And 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. Trump stared down at the table in front of him as the judge read the ruling, frowning slightly.

It was a stinging rebuke of the Republican former president’s insistence that he was exercising his free speech rights and a reminder that he’s a criminal defendant subject to the harsh realities of trial procedure.

The judge’s suggestion that he may jail the former president signalled that Trump’s already precarious legal standing could further spiral depending on his behaviour during the trial.

Trump did not respond to reporters’ shouted inquiries about the fine in the courthouse hallway.

Merchan wrote that he is “keenly aware of and protective of” Trump’s First Amendment rights, “particularly given his candidature for the office of President of the United States.”

“It is critically important that defendant’s legitimate free speech rights not be curtailed, that he be able to fully campaign for the office which he seeks and that he be able to respond and defend himself against political attacks,” Merchan wrote.

Still, he warned that the court would not tolerate “willful violations of its lawful orders and that, if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

With that statement, the judge drew nearer the spectre of Trump becoming the first former president of the United States behind bars.

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