Bitter, virtual Trump promises a Manhattan judge he won't harass or attack hush-money witnesses

Former president Donald Trump in court
Former president Donald Trump, left on screen, and his attorney, Todd Blanche, right on screen, appear by video, as his other attorney Susan Necheles, right, looks on, before a hearing begins in Manhattan criminal court.AP Photo/Curtis Means via Pool
  • Trump appeared virtually Tuesday at the latest court hearing in his 34-felony hush-money indictment.

  • He grudgingly agreed to a March 25 trial date — shaking his head and smiling bitterly.

  • He also shook his head in apparent disgust when told he'll be in contempt if he uses DA evidence to harass witnesses.

Donald Trump appeared virtually Tuesday at the latest court hearing in his hush-money indictment, promising a Manhattan judge that he will abide by a protective order that bans him from divulging confidential evidence about the witnesses against him.

"Yes, I do," Trump looked into a camera and answered, when asked by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan if he has a copy of the order.

Trump shook his head "no" in apparent disgust when the judge told his lawyer, Todd Blanche, that he risks sanctions and a finding of contempt if he violates the order.

"Understood, your honor," Blanche answered for his clearly angry client.

And Trump shook his head, "no," a second time when both sides agreed to a March 25, 2024 trial date, and the judge directed all parties, including the former president, to clear their schedules for trial.

Trump's image was beamed into the courtroom on large screens. He sat at a black table before two American flags trimmed in gold fringe. He wore a dark blue suit and a red tie striped with white and blue. His attorney Todd Blanche, sat to his left.      .

The former president did not look happy, and he avoided the routine honorific, "your honor," in the one moment he addressed the judge.

Trump flashed a skeptical look when the judge insisted that the order is not a "gag" order barring him from speaking out in his own defense.

"He is the current leading contender" for the presidency in 2024, Blanche said, when the judge asked if there were any outstanding issues to resolve during the hearing.

"As such, he is concerned his First Amendment rights are being violated at this moment," the lawyer said.

"It is not a gag order," Merchan responded.

"It is not meant to impede Mr. Trump's ability to campaign for the presidency of the United States," the judge said. As Trump listened, a skeptical look crossed his face.

"He is free to do anything that does not violate the specific terms of this protective order," the judge told Blanche.

Tuesday's hearing had two purposes. One was scheduling. Trump's next appearance dates were set — for October 10 and January 4 — along with the March 25 trial date, which will hit just as 

The second purpose was for the judge to hear — from Trump's mouth directly — that he is aware of the protective order.

The order concerns a large cache of evidence — including witness texts and emails, grand jury testimony, and prosecutors' notes — that is soon to shared with the defense by the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

During Tuesday's hearing, Assistant District Attorney Catherine McCaw turned over to the defense a hard drive holding the first tranche of this so-called "discovery" evidence.

The protective order bars Trump from using the prosecution's most sensitive evidence for anything other than his own defense. He cannot copy the material or in any way share it, including on "Truth Social, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, or YouTube without prior approval from the Court," the order says.

He cannot disclose the names and identifying information of any of the district attorney's non-prosecution staffers working the case. He cannot even personally possess copies of the most sensitive materials prosecutors are now sharing with the defense, including what the order describes as "forensic images of witness cell phones."

Michael Cohen — the key witness against his former boss — has predicted Trump will not be able to control himself.

"I have less than zero confidence," Cohen told Insider of Trump's ability to abide by the protective order and restrain himself from using sensitive evidence to attack witnesses.

"Rational thought flies out the window when Trump gets angry," Cohen said. "He's no different than a petulant child."

Trump is charged in Manhattan with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Prosecutors allege that falsehoods were recorded in Trump Organization books in 2017 in order to disguise $130,000 in hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels as a legal "retainer" to Cohen.

The charges carry anywhere from zero to four years in prison. Trump has called the prosecution a "hoax" and a "witch hunt," and has denied that he ever had an encounter with Daniels.

Read the original article on Business Insider