Donald Trump made a video appearance in a New York courtroom on Tuesday where the judge tentatively scheduled the former president’s trial for March 25, a date that would fall in the heat of the presidential primary season. Trump had pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan reviewed an order barring Trump from publicly disseminating certain evidence turned over by prosecutors.
Trump was spared a personal appearance at the courthouse, avoiding the mammoth security and logistical challenges that accompanied his arraignment last month. Instead, the Republican was connected by video conference, with his face beamed onto courtroom TV monitors.
Trump is allowed to speak publicly about the criminal case, according to Merchan’s order, but he risks being held in contempt if he uses evidence turned over by prosecutors in the pretrial discovery process to target witnesses or others involved in the case.
Trump pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to payments his company made to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Prosecutors say those payments were intended to reimburse and compensate Cohen for orchestrating hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations of extramarital sexual encounters. Trump denies having had extramarital flings and says the prosecution is politically motivated.
Merchan’s protective order bars Trump and his lawyers from disseminating evidence to third parties or posting it to social media, and it requires that certain, sensitive material shared by prosecutors be kept only by Trump’s lawyers, not Trump himself.
Prosecutors sought the order soon after Trump’s arrest, citing what they say is his history of making “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements” about people he’s tangled with in legal disputes.
Merchan, noting Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate, has made clear that the protective order shouldn’t be construed as a gag order and that Trump has a right to publicly defend himself.
Trump’s lawyers are seeking to have his criminal case moved to federal court. It will continue in state court while that plays out.
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