Prosecutors want Trump to be held in contempt — but what does that mean?



TOP Trump at trial 042224 AP Victor J. Blue e1713905762407

(NEXSTAR) — Tuesday morning, before former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial resumed, the New York judge in his case held a hearing on the prosecution’s request that Trump be held in contempt of court and fined at least $3,000 for allegedly violating his gag order.

Trump currently faces 34 felony counts for reimbursements prosecutors claim his company made to his lawyer Michael Cohen for hush money payments. Those payments were allegedly disguised in records as legal expenses.

In March, before the trial began, Judge Juan M. Merchan issued a gag order, barring the former president from commenting publicly about witnesses, prosecutors, court staff, and jurors in the trial. A few days later, the judge expanded Trump’s gag order.

Now, prosecutors say Trump violated the gag order in 10 different posts from his social media account and website. The posts mentioned Cohen, Stormy Daniels (who Cohen paid off on Trump’s behalf to keep quiet about an alleged affair), and reporters.

Todd Blanche, Trump’s lawyer, said during Tuesday’s hearing that people working with Trump will pick out articles they think his followers would like to see and then repost them to Truth Social under his name.

Blanche had argued that reposting a news article, as in some of the posts at issue, doesn’t violate the gag order. When Merchan asked for citations to cases to back that supposition up, Blanche said he didn’t have any, but “it’s just common sense.”

Prosecutors have sought $3,000 in fines — $1,000 each for three of the alleged violations — and that Trump be held in contempt of court.

But what does it mean to be held in contempt?

Generally speaking, contempt of court means someone has violated an order of the court, according to Cornell Law School, or has done something to “obstruct or interfere with the orderly administration of justice.”

Cornell explains that in New York, civil contempt is used to “protect parties’ rights to litigation,” while “criminal contempt is used to protect the judicial system but is generally meant to recognize an offense against public justice as opposed to a litigant.”

Criminal contempt in the first degree, under New York law, is treated as a class E felony, which could lead to imprisonment of up to four years — though it could be much less, depending on the judge’s decision.

It’s too soon to say what consequences, if any, Trump will face regarding the allegations made by the prosecutors as Merchan said Tuesday that he would not make an immediate decision. He did, however, suggest that instead of begging for forgiveness, Trump should have asked for clarity when considering social posts or reposts that might cross the line.

Later, during a break in the trial, Trump slammed Merchan over the gag order in a social media post.

“HIGHLY CONFLICTED, TO PUT IT MILDLY, JUDGE JUAN MERCHAN, HAS TAKEN AWAY MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH,” Trump wrote on his social media site during a brief court break. “EVERYBODY IS ALLOWED TO TALK AND LIE ABOUT ME, BUT I AM NOT ALLOWED TO DEFEND MYSELF. THIS IS A KANGAROO COURT.”

Last year, Trump was fined $15,000 for twice violating a gag order imposed at his New York civil fraud trial after he made a disparaging social media post about the judge’s chief law clerk. In 2022, Trump was held in contempt and fined $110,000 for being slow to respond to a subpoena in the investigation that led to the civil fraud lawsuit.

Trial proceedings are set to resume on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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