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Judge tells Trump he'll send him to jail if he violates his gag order again


A judge in New York delivered sharp words to Donald Trump today. In the New York hush money criminal trial, Judge Juan Merchan told Trump he would send the defendant to jail if the former president continues to violate his gag order. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was there in the courtroom. Hi, Andrea.


SHAPIRO: What prompted this latest warning?

BERNSTEIN: Last week, Judge Merchan found that Trump had violated his order not to disparage witnesses nine times. That is, he found Trump in criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt nine times over. This morning, first thing, Merchan took the bench and looked directly at Trump, telling him he found him in criminal contempt for the 10th time, this time for disparaging the jurors. Merchan then said, quote, "it appears as if the thousand-dollar fines are not serving as a deterrent" and added, the last thing I want to do is put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States and possibly the future president of the United States.

SHAPIRO: So how explicit was the implication that he might send Trump to jail if he continues to defy the gag order?

BERNSTEIN: So Merchan said he was aware that incarcerating the former president would be disruptive to the case, the court officers and the Secret Service who would accompany Trump to jail, as they do everywhere. But Merchan was saying that just because such a thing seems unimaginable, it could be a very real possibility. He said, at the end of the day, I have a job to do, and the job is to protect the dignity of the judicial system. And he added, so much as I do not want to impose a jail sanction, and I've done everything I can to avoid doing so, I want you to know I will.

SHAPIRO: That seems pretty explicit. You've been in many courtrooms with the former...


SHAPIRO: ...President. He has often tussled with judges. How is this different?

BERNSTEIN: Right. So in his civil business fraud trial, Trump was forced to pay an increasing series of fines for violating the gag order in that case. And on the very last day of the case, Trump stood up to deliver his own closing arguments, even though he'd already been told not to by the judge.

In the defamation case that writer E. Jean Carroll ultimately won, Trump had a direct confrontation with the judge who said he would expel Trump from the courtroom if he continued muttering things like, that's not true. That judge told Trump, you can't control yourself, and Trump shot back, you can't either.

But despite those admonishments, I have never heard as serious a threat as I heard this morning to Trump's liberty. Judge Merchan clearly indicated he's prepared to put Trump behind bars if he continues to act in criminal contempt.

SHAPIRO: Obviously, there are all kinds of political implications for that if it were to happen, but tell us what took place in court after that threat.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, so the bulk of the day was spent with current and former Trump organization employees on the stand - the former controller Jeffrey McConney and Deb Tarasoff, who to this day, runs the Trump Organization accounts payable department. It was less secret payments and alleged illicit liaisons, more ledgers and invoices. However, this is a case about falsifying business records, and it's the first time we've actually seen those records.

McConney described meeting with his former boss, the former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Well, Weisselberg, quote, "kind of threw a pad at me and said, take this down." And by this, he meant the calculations behind what he very explicitly called a reimbursement to Cohen for the payment to Stormy Daniels' lawyer.

SHAPIRO: And the defense response?

BERNSTEIN: They highlighted that McConney had never spoken to Trump himself and had no idea if Trump was involved. But then when Tarasoff came on, the prosecutor displayed 11 checks to Michael Cohen - eight of them signed with that familiar, angular, Sharpie signature, Donald Trump. And Tarasoff described the payment system. She would staple the invoice from Michael Cohen to the check, FedEx it to Trump at the White House, then have it sent back to her. She would send the check to Cohen and file the backup.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrea Bernstein
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