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Trump must pay $9,000 for violating gag order in criminal hush money trial

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump has been fined for violating a gag order and warned of jail time in a Manhattan court. The decision came as week three of the former president's criminal trial got underway yesterday. NPR's political reporter Ximena Bustillo has been following the trial from the courthouse. So before we get to the witnesses, Ximena, Trump was fined for most but not all of the posts that prosecutors last week alleged violated that gag order. What exactly did the judge decide?

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Well, Trump was ordered to pay $9,000 for nine violating posts by Friday, May 3, and removed seven offending posts from his Truth Social account and two offending posts from his campaign website, which he already did. Originally, prosecutors took issue with 10 posts, not just nine, and Judge Juan Merchan ordered that the leftover posting - that included a repost of posts made by Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer. And while he says that it's unclear that Trump's post was a direct response to Cohen's post, the correlation is enough to, quote, "give pause" on if prosecutors had met their burden.

MARTÍNEZ: A lot of posting back and forth. Now, Trump got...

BUSTILLO: A lot of posts.

MARTÍNEZ: ... Off with a fine - yeah - this time around. Could punishment ever go further than a thousand dollars a post?

BUSTILLO: Well, Merchan also warned Trump that the court won't tolerate more violations, and if necessary and appropriate, he will consider jail time as a punishment. Now, it's worth pointing out that this would be unprecedented. No current or former president has ever been found guilty, let alone jailed. But we will - we are also in unprecedented times.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

BUSTILLO: One more thing is that there's a gag order hearing on Thursday to discuss what prosecutors are saying are further violations by Trump of the order against him.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. Now, another key witness took the stand yesterday, and jurors heard from someone named Keith Davidson. Who's Keith Davidson, and what did he have to say?

BUSTILLO: Well, Davidson was formerly a lawyer for both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Payments Trump allegedly made to both of these women are at the center of the case against him. In testimony, Davidson detailed how he negotiated McDougal's and Daniels' payments. They both alleged affairs with Trump. And the jury saw text messages between Davidson and leadership at American Media Inc., which published the National Enquirer, and emails with Cohen.

Now, last week, you might remember that jurors heard from David Pecker, who ran AMI. And Pecker described how he worked with Cohen to identify and kill stories that might hurt Trump and his campaign efforts. Now, Davidson also testified that he knew AMI was buying the stories to not run them, and that would, you know, inevitably help the Trump campaign efforts, even if he didn't know about any specific deal made between Cohen, Trump and Pecker.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, Donald Trump still needs to be in the room for this trial. What's he been like in the week - in week three?

BUSTILLO: Yeah, Trump watched this testimony closely. Jurors turned to Trump and the legal teams as they were asking questions. And this was the first day that a member of the Trump family - his son Eric - was in the room. He also spoke to reporters outside the courtroom, attacking the gag order is unconstitutional, and Judge Merchan is conflicted. And he also reiterated that he cannot be out campaigning as much as he would like to be.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. There's a break in the trial today. Proceedings resume tomorrow. What should we expect?

BUSTILLO: Well, Trump does hit the trail today. He will hold rallies in both Wisconsin and Michigan. These are also two of the key swing states that we are watching in the Midwest for the presidential contest. As for the court, Davidson's not done. His testimony will pick back up after the hearing on those additional alleged gag order violations we first talked about.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Thanks a lot.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOME'S SONG "COME BACK DOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.