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Judge threatens Trump with jail for court violations: 'I have a job to do'

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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom, as his criminal trial over charges that he falsified business records to conceal money paid to silence porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 continues, at Manhattan state court in New York City, U.S., May 6, 2024.

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

This is developing news. Check back for updates throughout the day.

A judge on Monday delivered a dire warning to Donald Trump: Stop violating the court's orders, or you will be thrown in jail.

"The last thing I want to do is to put you in jail. You are the former president of the United States, and possibly the next president as well," Judge Juan Merchan told Trump in Manhattan Supreme Court, where the former president is on trial in a criminal hush money case.

"I do not want to propose a jail sanction," Merchan said, but "that I will, if necessary."

The ultimatum came less than a week after the judge held Trump in contempt of court for nine violations of his gag order, which bars him from speaking about witnesses, jurors and other parties involved in the trial.

On Monday morning, Merchan held Trump in contempt again for claiming in an April 22 radio interview that the trial was "very unfair" because the jury was picked from an area that is "mostly all Democrat."

In making that claim, Trump "not only called into question the integrity, and therefore the legitimacy of these proceedings, but again raised the specter of fear for the safety of the jurors and of their loved ones," Merchan wrote in his ruling.

Merchan gave Trump the maximum fine of $1,000 for the latest gag order violation, giving him a total of $10,000 in fines for 10 separate infringements.

Trump is also "hereby put on notice that if appropriate and warranted, future violations of its lawful orders will be punishable by incarceration," Merchan ruled.

The judge acknowledged before handing down his ruling that, "It appears that the $1,000 fines are not serving as a deterrent."

But he said he would not hastily take the drastic step of throwing Trump in jail for his continued contempt.

"The magnitude of such a decision is not lost on me," Merchan said.

"There are many reasons why incarceration is truly a last resort for you," he said. "To take that step would be disruptive to the proceedings."

"But at the end of the day, I have a job to do."

Prosecutors then called to the witness stand Jeff McConney, the former longtime controller of the Trump Organization. McConney, who worked under the company's former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, previously gave emotional testimony in a New York civil business fraud trial against Trump.

The tense start to the fourth week of the historic trial followed a series of other dramatic developments, including a breakdown on the witness stand by a former top White House aide.

Jeffrey McConney, controller for the Trump Organization, leaves New York State Supreme Court in New York, US, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. 

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On Friday, former longtime Trump aide Hope Hicks testified for the prosecution under subpoena. She provided an insider's account of how Trump and his team reacted to damaging news about him on the 2016 presidential campaign trail. This included the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, in which Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexual misconduct.

"Everyone was just absorbing the shock of it," Hicks said as she described how she broke the news to the campaign.

That tape renewed media interest in porn star Stormy Daniels' little-known account of a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006. For much of the week, the jury heard from a lawyer who helped broker a $130,000 hush money payment for Daniels. That payment is at the center of the prosecution's case.

Former White House communications director Hope Hicks leaves the hearing room during a break at a closed-door interview with the House Judiciary Committee June 19, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 

Alex Wong | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide a reimbursement to his lawyer for the payment to Daniels. The $130,000 was paid by Trump's then-attorney Michael Cohen, less than two weeks before the 2016 election. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accuses Trump of concealing records of the payment to further an illegal scheme to influence the election.

Hicks testified that while she was working in the Trump White House, Trump told her that Cohen had made the payment without Trump's knowledge in order to protect him, and that he did it "out of the kindness of his own heart."

Hicks said she thought acting out of pure kindness would be "out of character for Michael."

She also suggested that Trump was pleased the Daniels story did not come out before the election. "I think Mr. Trump's opinion was it was better to be dealing with it now, and that it would have been bad to have that story come out before the election," she testified.

Read more about Trump's hush money trial

When Trump's attorneys began their cross-examination, asking her basic questions about her time at the Trump Organization, Hicks quickly broke down in tears on the witness stand.

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