Trump trial to resume with contempt hearing before first witness returns to stand

The first witness in former President Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial is expected to retake the stand Tuesday morning, but only after a hearing in which the judge in the case will examine a batch of Trump’s recent social media posts.

Prosecutors say the 11 posts violated a gag order in the case, which forbids Trump from commenting on witnesses, jurors and others involved in the proceedings.

Many of the posts, all from the last few weeks, include derogatory statements about adult film star Stormy Daniels and former attorney Michael Cohen, key witnesses in the case. One post from April 17 included a reference to potential jurors who were under consideration for the case at the time.

Prosecutors have asked for a fine of $1,000 per post, the maximum amount under New York law, and for Judge Juan Merchan to hold Trump in contempt for violating the order. It is unclear if Merchan will immediately rule on the request Tuesday.

Jurors were told to be ready to return to the courtroom by 11 a.m., in order to resume testimony by the trial’s first witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker.

Pecker was on the stand for about half an hour after attorneys for both sides presented their opening statements. He broadly described the operations of the National Enquirer’s parent company American Media Inc., or AMI, which he left in 2020. 

Under questioning by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, Pecker said he had final say over what Steinglass described as particularly “juicy” stories.

“We used checkbook journalism,” Pecker said, describing how editors were empowered to spend up to $10,000 on sourcing for stories, but that larger expenses “would have to be vetted and brought up to me for approval.”

He is expected to testify at length about an alleged “catch and kill” scheme, in which his company purchased the rights to unflattering stories about Trump, but never published them. A prosecutor said in court Monday that Pecker will also describe an effort to find and publish stories that would be damaging to Trump’s opponents in the 2016 election.

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