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Trump prosecutors keep witness schedule secret to avoid ex-president’s attacks

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Judge warns Trump of potential jail time for violating gag order

Artist: Jane Rosenberg

Donald Trump’s prosecutors are keeping their witness schedule secret in order to stop the former president from targeting upcoming witnesses in his New York criminal hush money trial, they said Monday.

“The defendant has been violating the order restricting extrajudicial speech, and we did not want to have the witnesses’ names, the next witnesses’ names out there,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told the judge in Manhattan Supreme Court.

To avoid the names being “out there,” the prosecution is notifying defense attorneys who the next witnesses are one day before they are called to testify, Steinglass said.

The District Attorney’s office has not released an expected witness list to the public.

This adds an extra layer of suspense to the dramatic trial, as one by one, prosecutors reveal who will be next on the stand.

Steinglass rejected defense claims that Trump is at an unfair disadvantage because his team is not presented with a full schedule of when each witness is expected to testify.

“They have had the witness list and the exhibit list for a long time,” he told Judge Juan Merchan after the jury went home for the day.

Steinglass said he didn’t want it to look like prosecutors were “somehow sandbagging the defense.” 

Trump is bound by a gag order that bars him from speaking about witnesses and jurors — but Merchan has already held him in contempt of court 10 times for violating the order.

The latest contempt citations were issued Monday morning, before the jury was seated.

Merchan warned Trump that future violations of court orders would land the former president in jail.

“The last thing I want to do is to put you in jail,” Merchan said to Trump. But “I will, if necessary.”

As Trump left the courthouse, he seemed to suggest he does not plan to stop violating the gag order.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while he walks with his attorney Todd Blanche, as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S., May 6, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

“Frankly, our constitution is far more important than jail … I’ll do that choice any day,” Trump said, a reference to his claims that the gag order deprives him of his right to free speech.

New insights

Steinglass’ conference with the judge capped of a day of testimony from Trump Organization insiders who described how the secretive company operates. They also testified about the business records at the center of District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s historic case.

Former Trump Organization controller Jeff McConney was the major witness of the day.

Read more about Trump’s hush money trial

Several times, prosecutors pressed him about the unusual circumstances of the reimbursement payments the company made to Trump’s former fixer, Michael Cohen.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records to hide the reimbursements to Cohen, who paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 presidential election to bury her claim that she and Trump had sex in 2006.

McConney testified that Cohen sent invoices that were not submitted to the company’s legal department, even though that department normally reviewed bills for legal services.

Witness Jeff McConney testifies during the Trump Organization’s criminal tax trial in Manhattan Criminal Court, New York City, U.S., October 31, 2022 in this courtroom sketch.

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

He also testified that he never saw a retainer agreement for Cohen related to those payments.

This is significant because Bragg alleges Trump falsified records of the Cohen reimbursements, by reporting them as payments for legal services provided under a retainer agreement.

McConney also said he was instructed to “gross up” the payments to Cohen to cover Cohen’s anticipated taxes on the money. On top of that, Cohen got another $60,000 bonus, for a total of $420,000 in payments.

McConney testified that he could not think of another instance where an expense reimbursement was doubled to cover expected taxes.

Trump’s 10th contempt citation

Merchan kicked off the day with a dire warning to Trump: Stop violating the court’s orders, or you will be thrown in jail.

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media, as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S., May 6, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

The ultimatum came less than a week after the judge held Trump in contempt of court for nine violations of the same gag order.

Merchan held Trump in contempt again Monday, for the tenth time, for claiming in an April 22 radio interview that his trial was “very unfair” because the jury was picked from an area that is “mostly all Democrat.”

Trump “not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones,” Merchan wrote in his ruling.

Merchan fined Trump the maximum $1,000 per violation, for total of $10,000 in fines for the 10 separate infringements.

“It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent,” said Merchan.

Still, he would not take the drastic step of throwing Trump in jail without serious consideration, he said.

“The magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me,” Merchan said.

“There are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for you,” he said. “To take that step would be disruptive to the proceedings.”

“But at the end of the day, I have a job to do.”

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