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SAUNDERS: Trump’s dislike of gag order doesn’t mean he should break it

WASHINGTON — It took the threat of being jailed to move former President Donald Trump to show some respect for the criminal justice system.

On Tuesday, Judge Juan Merchan fined Trump $9,000 — the $1,000 maximum for nine violations of a gag order that Merchan had imposed on Trump’s “extrajudicial statements.”

Because the loss of $9,000 means nothing to a billionaire and seems unlikely to check Trump’s big mouth, Merchan warned that if Trump continues to violate the gag order, “jail may be necessary.”

With the threat of incarceration, Trump promptly removed the offending posts.

I’ve written repeatedly about problems with the justice system’s treatment of Trump, especially this hush money case. (Trump has pleaded not guilty.) I meant every word I wrote about prosecutorial overreach.

But the fact that Trump doesn’t like a gag order doesn’t mean he is free to violate it.

“I don’t like this” is not a legal argument.

As usual, Trump sees himself as the victim here. He posted on Truth Social, “I am the only Presidential Candidate in History to be GAGGED.”

Trump added, “ELECTION INTERFERENCE!”

The former president wants America to think that Merchan is keeping him from engaging in political speech as he runs for the White House.

But Merchan’s order is narrow. The judge stipulated that Trump remains free to use his considerable social-media clout to say his fill about Merchan and District Attorney Alvin Bragg. Trump is prohibited from flaming witnesses, jurors or the family members of the judge and district attorney. The goal, the judge argued, is to spare civilians from fear of reprisal.

National Review legal sage Andrew McCarthy sees Merchan as an “activist Democrat” with an agenda. A former prosecutor, McCarthy sees an assault on Trump’s free speech rights as wrong-headed because, in his opinion, “Trump’s bracing posts and insults … don’t actually threaten anyone.”

OK, but tweeting about the judge’s daughter — she’s a Democratic political consultant — is not the hill to die on.

It doesn’t matter what the judge’s daughter does.

Better to go with standards like the policy for U.S. Courts: “Judges may not hear cases in which they have either personal knowledge of the disputed facts, a personal bias concerning a party to the case, earlier involvement in the case as a lawyer, or a financial interest in any party or subject matter of the case.”

As I watch this battle, I can’t help but think of how avoidable it was.

It’s irritating to watch Trump ignore how his lack of character and judgment put him in this soup. No one made him spend time with Daniels or former Playmate Karen McDougal.

Trump could afford the best lawyers in the country. Instead, the billionaire chose Michael Cohen, who is now a convicted perjurer and likely witness against him.

To make matters worse, TrumpWorld is convinced that these prosecutions help his almost certain victory in the GOP presidential contest. In what universe is it seen that good can come of his flouting a judge’s orders?

On Truth Social, Trump posted, “Every time they attack Trump, the MAGA movement gets stronger!”

Or maybe Trump is doing better in the polls despite himself.

Contact Washington Columnist Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com. Follow @debrajsaunders on X.

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