The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial threatened to throw the former president in jail—and hit him with a fine—for “blatantly” violating a gag order by refusing to delete a website post attacking court staff.
“This court is way beyond the warning stage,” Justice Arthur F. Engoron fumed on Friday.
He fined Trump $5,000—the first time the former president has been materially punished by a judge for his repeated, incendiary social media posts—and accepted that the violation was “inadvertent” but warned that future punishment could include jail time.
Engoron began Friday’s trial day by striking a serious tone and demanding that Trump’s lawyers explain themselves.
“In the current overheated climate, incendiary comments can and in some cases already has, led to serious physical harm and worse. I will now allow the defendants to explain why this blatant violation of the gag order would not result in serious sanctions, including financial sanctions and/or possibly imprisoning him,” he said.
The case that Engoron is presiding over—Trump’s New York bank fraud trial—is a civil matter, meaning jail time wasn’t ever supposed to be in the cards, only stiff fines and a threat to ruin his real estate empire.
But now, Trump appears to be facing a very real threat of spending time in jail if his antics continue.
Defense lawyer Christopher Kise immediately apologized on Friday morning for Trump’s behavior, blaming the 2024 Republican presidential candidate’s bloated “campaign machinery” for simply forgetting to remove a webpage that mirrored the Truth Social post Trump had already deleted.
“There was no intention to evade or circumvent or ignore the order. I assure you that. I just know that this is a very large machine and this is one of the reasons, frankly, I don't have social media,” Kise said, trying to deflect with some light humor.
“But that’s been taken down. And we don’t have any other… there were no subsequent postings,” Kise added.
The judge didn’t immediately accept that excuse.
“I will take that under advisement, but… Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine,” Engoron reminded him.
The Daily Beast first reported that this lashing was coming Thursday night.
The formal reprimand follows several warnings Engoron has given for the out-of-control real estate tycoon—who has spent months intimidating witnesses and maligning judges and prosecutors—to not follow the same modus operandi in New York state court.
At issue is the way that Trump managed to bungle the very start of his trial by lying about the judge’s top legal adviser. On the second day of trial earlier this month, Trump took to his Truth Social media network to share a MAGA-aligned Twitter user’s post asking, “Why is Judge Engoron's Principal Law Clerk, Allison R. Greenfield, palling around with Chuck Schumer?” Trump also linked to her personal Instagram page, drawing the attention of his huge fan base against her.
On Friday morning, Engoron carefully went over what had already transpired thus far to remind Trump’s lawyers of the hot water they’re in, citing the “untrue disparaging and personally identifying post about my principal law clerk.” He also revealed what happened in his closed courtroom when reporters weren’t present.
“I spoke to defendants on and off the record. Off the record, I ordered Donald Trump to remove the post immediately. Approximately 10 minutes later, Donald Trump represented to me that he had taken down the offending post,” he began.
“I then, on the record, imposed on all parties to his action a very limited gag order forbidding ‘all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any members of my staff,’ emphasizing quite clearly that ‘personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I will not tolerate them under any circumstances,’” he recalled.
“Despite this clear order, last night I learned that the subject of the offending post was never removed from the website donaldjtrump.com, and in fact had been on that website for the past 17 days. I understand that it was removed late last night, but only in response to email from this court,” he went on.
Engoron, who is typically easygoing in court, was anything but while he reprimanded Trump’s legal team. His threat of sanctions and jail time shows just how seriously he’s taking the matter, given that similar behavior by the embattled former president has led to a deluge of threats against prosecutors at the New York Attorney General’s Office, the Manhattan District Attorney, the Fulton County District Attorney, and those on the Department of Justice’s Special Counsel Jack Smith’s team.