Media questions if Trump violated gag order through surrogates saying things he is barred from discussing

 May 18, 2024

Former President Donald Trump has been threatened with jail if he continues to violate the gag order imposed by Judge Juan Merchan, who is presiding over his New York criminal trial.

Trump may have found a way to get around Merchan's gag order and say what he is prohibited from saying -- at least vicariously through several supportive surrogates who have been accompanying him to the Manhattan courthouse, according to an MSNBC op-ed.

The situation is likely testing the boundaries, if not the patience, of the judge and the limitations he has imposed on Trump, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that the judge could ultimately decide that a line has been crossed by Trump's surrogates and impose further sanctions, up to and including a likely brief stint in a jail cell for the former president.

Is Trump violating the gag order vicariously through others?

Before the trial began, and at the urging of prosecutors, Judge Merchan imposed a since-expanded gag order on former President Trump that generally prohibits him from speaking about jurors and witnesses, the prosecution team and court staff -- with an exception for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and the judge himself -- as well as the family members of prosecutors and court employees, including the judge.

Notably, the gag order instructs Trump to refrain from "Making or directing others to make public statements" about any of the prohibited subjects, and therein lies the potential problem for both the former president and the judge.

The judge must now determine if Trump has directed his surrogates to violate the gag order on his behalf or whether they are speaking critically on the barred topics on their own accord.

That leads to a potential secondary dilemma for Merchan, if he should find that Trump has violated the gag order yet again, at least in spirit through his surrogates -- should he make good on his threat and throw Trump in jail, even as doing so would spark a host of new problems and inconveniences for all involved, or should he overlook things because the trial is drawing near its end?

Saying the things that Trump is "prevented from saying"

The Washington Post reported this week that some of former President Trump's loyal supporters in Congress and elsewhere have begun to make appearances at the ongoing criminal trial in New York and make public statements about topics that Trump is unable to speak about, such as the jurors and witnesses, members of the prosecution team, and the judge's Democratic activist daughter, among other things.

That includes raising questions about the partisan leanings and even the citizenship of members of the jury as well as attacks on the credibility of the prosecution's star witnesses -- porn star Stormy Daniels and disgraced convicted former attorney and serial liar Michael Cohen.

Critiques were also launched at family members who are off-limits to Trump, as Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) told reporters, "The judge’s daughter is a political operative and raises money for Democrats," and added, "You’ve got the lead prosecutor’s wife that is a significant donor to Democrats and I think to Biden."

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), reportedly a top contender to be Trump's running mate, arguably toed the line of acceptability the most when he quipped that he was purposefully saying things that Trump was "prevented from saying, which is a disgrace."

Trump maintains "plausible deniability" on if he has directed his surrogates to violate the gag order on his behalf

As for Trump, Politico reported that he, too, came awfully close to giving away the game when he was specifically asked by reporters if he had directed his surrogates to say things on his behalf that he wasn't allowed to say because of the gag order.

In a seemingly carefully crafted reply that maintained "plausible deniability," per MSNBC,  Trump said, "I do have a lot of surrogates and they are speaking very beautifully. They come from all over Washington, and they’re highly respected, and they think this is the biggest scam they’ve ever seen."

Whether Merchan decides to let all of this slide and avoid the inevitable hassle that would come with additional sanctions against Trump, including possible jail time, or deems it necessary to hold the former president accountable for what others have said on his behalf will be a big question that hovers over the remainder of the proceedings.

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