A judge ordered former President Donald Trump to appear virtually for a May 23 hearing in his Manhattan criminal case after previously setting rules preventing him from using evidence to attack witnesses, The Associated Press reports.
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan added the video hearing to the calendar on Thursday, aiming to review the restrictions with the GOP frontrunner, his lawyers and prosecutors, and ensure that Trump understands he risks being held in contempt of court if he violates them.
“We’ll set up the camera for Mr. Trump to appear wherever he is at that time and we’ll do it here in the courtroom virtually,” Merchan said.
Though Trump’s legal team has requested to have the case transferred to federal court, which U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein is considering, the case is continuing in state court.
In an order this week, Hellerstein also scheduled paperwork deadlines and a late June hearing for the case, which pertains to payments Trump’s company made to his former attorney Michael Cohen. Prosecutors believe the funds were used to repay and compensate Cohen for hush money payments he made during Trump’s 2016 campaign to cover up allegations of his extramarital sexual affairs.
Merchan, who is still overseeing the case in the interim, agreed to go over the rules with Trump virtually after prosecutors reminded him last week that requiring the Republican to be physically present would require increased security and spur a logistical nightmare.
Trump’s April 4 arraignment, during which he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, was met with a crowd of media and protesters, necessitated street closures and extra security measures, and brought unrelated court business to a halt that day.
The New York judge issued a protective order on Monday barring Trump and his lawyers from sharing evidence with third parties or on social media and requiring that the former president’s lawyers maintain sole access to certain sensitive materials that prosecutors provide, not Trump himself. However, the order allows for Trump to review the evidence with his attorneys so long as he does not reproduce or photograph it.
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In a hearing just days earlier, the judge encouraged Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors to come to a consensus on the former president’s access to and use of prosecutor’s evidence during the discovery period prior to trial.
Prosecutors first requested the protective order shortly after Trump’s arrest over concerns about Trump’s history of wielding “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements” against people he’s engaging in a legal battle.
During last week’s hearing, Merchan made sure to clarify that this order is not a gag order to keep Trump from speaking publicly about the case, considering Trump’s “special” status as a 2024 presidential candidate and former head of state.
“I’m bending over backwards and straining to make sure that he is given every opportunity possible to advance his candidacy and to be able to speak in furtherance of his candidacy,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is infringe on his or anybody else’s First Amendment rights.”
Barring a transfer to federal court, Merchan expects the case to go to trial in February or March 2024, meaning that the GOP frontrunner could be in the courtroom during the primaries.
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