The judge had warned Donald Trump: Tone down the rhetoric or he might have to impose a gag order.
“Please refrain from making statements that are likely to incite violence or civil unrest,” Judge Juan Merchan cautioned at Tuesday’s arraignment of the former president. He asked Trump to avoid language that could “jeopardize the rule of law.”
While the admonition applied to both sides, it was prosecutors who jumped in to say they were worried about Trump’s inflammatory style, citing his link to photos showing him holding a baseball bat next to a shot of Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg’s head. Trump’s attorneys said that as a candidate, he had the right to defend himself and counter illegal leaks.
Once Trump flew back to Florida from New York, the question hung in the air: Would he follow the judge’s advice?
This is, after all, the man whose aides, advisers and even family members have been trying to persuade to curtail his personal attacks and insults since he launched his first campaign in 2015.
Yet for the first time, Trump is facing certain constraints. He is under indictment. The judge will have plenty to say about how the trial plays out.
But when Trump spoke in prime time to an enthusiastic crowd at Mar-a-Lago, it seemed that toning it down was not in his DNA.
He called Bragg a “radical left” prosecutor, adding: “The criminal is the district attorney because he illegally leaked massive amounts” of grand jury material, and should resign.
He called Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith a “bomb thrower who is harassing hundreds of my people day after day over the boxes hoax.” That refers to the probe of Trump mishandling classified documents, in which Smith is reported to be pursuing possible obstruction of justice charges.
He called Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor looking into vote-tampering, “a local racist Democrat district attorney” who is doing everything in her power “to indict me.”
And then he went after Judge Merchan himself: “I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris.”
So much for restraint.
Trump has drawn particular flak for going after the judge’s daughter, a young professional who actually worked for a liberal consulting firm supporting Harris, especially after Donald Trump Jr. posted a picture of her.
This is how the former president campaigns. He’s convinced that is how he won the White House the first time around, by punching and counterpunching.
The defendant blames Merchan for the imprisonment of his friend Allen Weisselberg, overlooking the fact that the former Trump Organization CFO chose to plead guilty.
There is a pattern here. In 2016, Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was hearing a fraud lawsuit involving Trump University, by saying his Mexican background presented an “inherent conflict of interest” based on the candidate’s plan to build a border wall. He also called Curiel, who was born in Indiana, a “hater.”
During the Mar-a-Lago speech, which MSNBC refused to carry on the grounds that Trump was lying, he didn’t repeat some previously scathing language–such as calling Bragg a “degenerate psychopath.” But he came out swinging.
In a Truth Social post Wednesday, Trump said: “REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS SHOULD DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI UNTIL THEY COME TO THEIR SENSES. THE DEMOCRATS HAVE TOTALLY WEAPONIZED LAW ENFORCEMENT IN OUR COUNTRY.”
Defund the police? For my adult lifetime, the Republicans ran as the party of law and order and called the Democrats soft on crime. Now that seems flipped on its head. Trump and many Republicans are constantly on the attack against federal law enforcement, while the Democrats argue no one is above the law.
The Bragg indictment is a flimsy document that has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Of course Trump is entitled to attack the case and the man who brought it, but as both candidate and criminal defendant, he may learn that his life has changed.