Trump invokes constitutional right to defend himself


New York: Former President Donald Trump pleaded with a New York appeals court to continue to pause the gag order against him in his $250 million civil fraud trial.

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Trump said that the threats to the judge and his law clerk did not “justify” limiting his constitutional right to defend himself.

Lawyers for the New York attorney general’s office and the court last week urged the appeals court to reinforce the gag order on Trump following “serious and credible” threats that have inundated Judge Arthur Engoron’s chambers since the trial began in October, media reports said.

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Trump’s attorneys filed a plea on Monday before the appeals court — consisting of two judges appointed by Barack Obama and one by Joe Biden — that the former president never threatened the judge or his principal law clerk and he can’t be held responsible for others actions.

They invoked the first amendment of right to free speech arguing Trump had the right to criticize and call out his perception of bias by the judge and his law clerk without retribution. It is “essential” to maintain public confidence in the trial, they argued.

“At base, the disturbing behaviour engaged in by anonymous, third-party actors towards the judge and Principal Law Clerk publicly presiding over an extremely polarizing and high-profile trial merits appropriate security measures,” Trump’s attorneys wrote as reported by CNN.

“However, it does not justify the wholesale abrogation of Petitioners’ First Amendment rights in a proceeding of immense stakes to Petitioners, which has been compromised by the introduction of partisan bias on the bench, ” the report quoted Trump’s legal team as saying.

Monday’s filing is the first in a series of hundreds of messages harassing Judge Engoron and a law clerk that were made public last week. Engoron’s clerk has received 20-30 calls per day to her personal cell phone and 30-50 messages daily on social media platforms and two personal email addresses, according to court papers.

A New York appeals court judge had earlier this month temporarily lifted the gag order imposed on Trump and his attorneys that blocked them from making public statements about the judge’s staff, specifically the principal law clerk who he consults with on the bench.

Trump and his lawyers have argued that the law clerk is biased against Trump based on political donations she made to some organizations that support the New York attorney general, Letitia James who sued Trump for $250 million for punitive damages in the civil fraud trials case.

They alleged she was “co-judging” the case based on frequent consultations she had with the judge.

The appeals court judge then ruled he would lift the gag order to allow a fuller panel of judges to weigh in given the constitutional issues at play, reports said.

The prosecuting lawyers submitted filings last week urging the appeals court to put the gag order back in place saying since it was lifted on November 16 the number of harassing messages increased and half of them the clerk received were anti-Semitic. Trump’s attorneys said Trump can’t be blamed for others’ comments.

“However, none of the contemptible dross reflected in those messages can be attributed to President Trump or his counsel. Nor have President Trump or his counsel ever made a statement referencing the Principal Law Clerk’s religion, appearance, or private activities,” they told the appeals court.

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