Legal expert: Judge may hold contempt “hearing” over Trump “surrogates” circumventing gag order

Over the past week, Republican politicians have been schlepping out from the comparatively violent confines of their red states to enjoy the relative peace and tranquility of New York City – and to denounce, before the press, those who are testifying against Donald Trump, suggest people of color are not real Americans, and profess a desire to punish anyone who tries to hold the former president accountable before the law.

“I am disappointed in looking at the American citizens— the supposedly American citizens in that courtroom,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., confessed to reporters.

“Does any reasonable, sensible person really believe anything that Michael Cohen says?” added Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio.

Rather than prosecute Trump, chipped in House Speaker Mike Johnson,R-La., on Tuesday, it’s time for Congress to go after the prosecutors themselves and “hold them accountable.”

Each day this week, outside the Manhattan courthouse where Trump is on trial for allegedly falsifying business records to cover up a problematic tryst with a porn star, GOP lawmakers have put on a performance for the unquestioned leader of their party.

For some, ambition might be motive enough: Vance, having deleted his old anti-Trump tweets, insisted he “was there to support a friend,” but that dear friend is also rumored to be considering him as a running mate (Vance also dutifully praised the “beautiful view” from Trump Tower). But others explicitly spelled out that they were there to be what Trump himself called them: “surrogates.”

Tuberville, in an interview with the right-wing Newsmax, was not subtle. Asked if he was there “to go against the gag order and intimidate witnesses because Trump can’t,” the senator replied: “Yes, sir.”

“Hopefully, we have more and more senators and congressmen go up everyday to represent him, and being able to go out and overcome this gag order,” Tuberville said. “And that’s one of the reasons we went: to be able to speak our piece for President Trump.”

Tuberville is entitled to say what he likes. But as defense attorney Jeff Jacobovitz noted on MSNBC, the defendant in the case is not entitled to put the words in Tuberville’s mouth.

“If Trump is feeding any of these congressmen or senators information to talk about, that violates the gag order,” he said, adding that the judge “may have a hearing on it, and it could violate other gag orders in other cases that are pending now. And, so, that’s a serious thing, and the court of appeals decision is something that has to be taken seriously.”

A former spokesperson for Trump suggested that is the game plan. “I think what he’s looking for is a way around the gag order,” Michael Dubke told CNN. “They have the ability to say things that Donald Trump has been wanting to say been struck down 10 times for saying. So this is one way to get around the gag order.”

It’s a problem, though, if Trump is literally dictating what his self-declared surrogates are saying. And there’s reporting that suggests that is indeed the case.

On Monday, New York Magazine’s Andrew Rice told MSNBC he witnessed the defendant in the courtroom appearing to edit the statements that his self-declared surrogates would go on to say. “I was sitting close enough that I could actually look over Trump’s shoulder and see what he was reading,” Rice recounted. As Michael Cohen testified, Trump was “going through and annotating and editing the quotes that these people were going to say,” Rice said.

Trump is at this point a serial violator of his gag order at this point, forced to pay $10,000 for his infringements thus far; another violation, Judge Juan Merchan has warned, could be punished with time behind bars. If prosecutors decide to make it an issue – they may want to avoid the disruption – he could at the very least be headed to another contempt hearing.

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