Judge Juan Merchan fined former President Donald Trump $9,000 on Tuesday and held him in contempt for violating his gag order, warning he may impose jail time for future violations.

Merchan ordered Trump to remove the offending posts by 2:15 p.m. Tuesday and to pay the fine by May 3. He rejected Trump’s defense that he was simply engaging in political speech by responding to attacks by witnesses like Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels, writing that the court is “keenly aware of, and protective of, Defendant’s First Amendment rights, particularly given his candidacy for the office of President of the United States.”


“It is critically important that Defendant’s legitimate free speech rights not be curtailed, that he be able to fully campaign for the office which he seeks and that he be able to respond and defend himself against political attacks,” Merchan wrote. “For that reason, this Court exercised discretion when it crafted the Expanded Order and delayed issuing it until the eve of trial.”

However, Merchan warned Trump that he “will not tolerate continued willful violations of its lawful orders and that if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, it will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

Prosecutors argued in court filings that Trump violated the order in 10 instances, arguing for the judge to impose the maximum $1,000 fine for each alleged violation. The gag order prevents Trump from making statements about witnesses, prosecutors other than the district attorney, court staff and jurors, along with family members of the staff, district attorney, or judge. 

Last week, prosecutors brought up four new violations of the order, which Merchan will consider during a hearing Thursday.

“He’s allowed to respond to political attacks, Your Honor,” Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, told the judge during a hearing last week considering the alleged violations, according to Politico. “There is no dispute that President Trump is facing a barrage of political attacks from all sides, including from the two witnesses referenced in the early post.”

Merchan imposed the gag order on Trump on March 26, but expanded it on April 1 after Trump attacked the judge’s daughter, a Democratic activist, on social media.

Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation