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Appeals court reinstates Trump gag order in New York civil tax fraud case

An Appellate Division panel rejected the former president's argument that an order barring him from bashing the judge's law clerk was unconstitutional.
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A state appeals court in New York reinstated a gag order against Donald Trump and his lawyers in the $250 million civil fraud case against the former president and his company, rejecting his argument that the order was unconstitutional.

State court officials had argued the gag order was necessary because of the "deluge" of threats directed at the clerk after Trump had blasted her on social media. Trump renewed his attacks on the clerk after a judge from the state Appellate Division issued a temporary stay of the order earlier this month.

The ruling Thursday by a four-judge panel rejected Trump's appeal and reinstated the orders against Trump and his lawyers, who'd repeatedly complained about the clerk in court. The decision does not explain the judges' rationale but means the gag order will stay in place as the panel considers Trump's full appeal of the orders.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who issued the gag orders, informed both sides of the appeals court's decision at the ongoing trial. "I intend to enforce the gag orders rigorously and vigorously and I want to make sure counsel informs their clients of the fact that the stay was vacated," he said.

Trump attorney Chris Kise told the judge that "we are aware" of the ruling. "It’s a tragic day for the rule of law, but we are aware,” he said.

Kise added in a written statement to NBC News that it's "hard to imagine a more unfair process and hard to believe this is happening in America," and complained the ruling means his client "may not even comment on why he thinks he cannot get a fair trial."

Trump's attorneys have complained about the clerk passing notes to the judge and accused her of rolling her eyes during their questioning. They have also accused her of appearing to act as a co-judge in the case, which Engoron has angrily denied. Trump has repeatedly complained that the clerk is "very biased" and tells the judge what to do.

The orders only bar Trump and his attorneys from talking about court staff. They do not prevent Trump from criticizing Engoron or state Attorney General Letitia James' office, which brought the claims against him.

Shortly after the ruling, Trump called the case “the most unfair Trial in the History of New York” on his social media platform Truth Social and attacked the judge’s wife, who is not covered by the gag order. The posts shared anti-Trump memes that Trump represented as having come from the wife's social media accounts.

Al Baker, a spokesman for the state court system, said, “Justice Engoron’s wife has sent no social media posts regarding the former president. They are not hers.”

In a court filing last week, Charles Hollon, an officer with the state court system’s Department of Public Safety, said both the judge and the clerk had been swamped with "credible" threats because of Trump's rants, resulting in the need for heightened security.

Hollon said the clerk’s “personal information, including her personal cell phone number and personal email addresses also have been compromised resulting in daily doxing. She has been subjected to, on a daily basis, harassing, disparaging comments and antisemitic tropes.” Those threats spiked after the gag order was lifted, Hollon noted.

Trump's attorneys contended in court filings that he was not to blame for the actions of "third parties." “The Constitution does not permit Justice Engoron to curtail [Trump’s] speech simply because people may react to things that President Trump says,” they wrote.

Engoron had previously fined Trump a total of $15,000 after finding on two separate occasions that he had violated the order.

The trial, which centers on allegations that Trump and his company falsely inflated their assets to get bank loans and insurance rates they weren't otherwise entitled to, is now its second month.

Eric Trump is expected to be called as a defense witness on Dec. 6 and his father will be called as their final witness on Dec. 11. The AG's office said Thursday it will present a one-day rebuttal case on Dec. 12.

While closing arguments were expected to take place the next day, Engoron granted a request by Trump's lawyers to delay closing arguments until after both sides presented additional written legal arguments. The judge scheduled closings to take place on Jan. 11, and said he'll issue his ruling "a few weeks after that."