Donald Trump has appeared in court via video link to receive a warning from a judge over evidence sharing in his criminal hush money case.
It was his first appearance in court – albeit this time not in person – since his arraignment on 5 April where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and ordering alleged hush money payments.
The former US president, 76, was connected by video conference while prosecutors and Trump’s lawyers attended the Manhattan court in person.
The sole purpose of the hearing was to ensure Trump is aware of new rules barring him from using evidence turned over by prosecutors to target and attack witnesses.
Judge Juan Merchan first addressed Trump – warning the former president that if he violates a protective order set down in the case he could face sanctions, including contempt of court.
Addressing Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche – who was sat next to the former president – Judge Merchan said: “Did you also explain this order is a mandate of the court?
Mr Blanche replied: “He understands he needs to comply and if he doesn’t it would violate the court order.”
“Contempt is punishable,” said Judge Merchan.
“Understood,” replied Mr Blanche.
Following the hearing, Trump criticised the decision to hold his trial on 25 March next year, calling it “election interference”.
He posted on the social media platform Truth: “Just had New York County Supreme Court hearing where I believe my First Amendment Rights,”Freedom of Speech,” have been violated, and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25th, right in the middle of Primary season.
“Very unfair, but this is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted. It’s called ELECTION INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before!!!”
Mr Merchan agreed to the extra step of personally instructing Trump on the restrictions after listing them in what’s known as a protective order on 8 May.
Prosecutors sought the order soon after Trump’s arrest, citing what they say is his history of making “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements” about people he has been involved in legal disputes with.
In March, Trump warned of possible “death and destruction” if he was indicted for making alleged hush payments to Stormy Daniels.
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The former porn actress, who claimed Trump’s lawyers made a $130,000 (£105,000) payment to her in 2016 in exchange for her silence over an extramarital sexual encounter a decade earlier, also said she has received death threats from Trump supporters since the facts of the charges were made public.
The order prevents Trump from disseminating evidence to third parties or posting on social media, and that certain, sensitive material shared by prosecutors be kept only by his lawyers.
Mr Merchan has made clear that the order should not be construed as a gag order, and the former president, who has a “special” status, has a right to publicly defend himself.
Trump is the first former US president to face criminal charges in court, even as he makes a bid to retake the White House in 2024.
His lawyers are seeking to have his criminal case moved to federal court.
Earlier this month Trump was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming writer E Jean Carroll in the 1990s.
Despite consistently denying Ms Carroll’s claims, he was ordered to pay the former Elle magazine advice columnist $5m (£4m) in damages.
Barely a day after the jury’s rule in New York, Trump was seen mocking Ms Carroll on prime-time television, calling her a “wack job” and claiming the judge was “biased”.
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