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Donald Trump's allies are doing his dirty work while tiptoeing around his gag order

Geoff Weiss,Brent D. Griffiths   

Donald Trump's allies are doing his dirty work while tiptoeing around his gag order
  • Donald Trump was warned not to go after prosecutors or witnesses again.
  • Now, his allies are doing it.

Donald Trump has been testing the limits of his gag order in his hush-money trial — with 10 violations culminating in a warning from the judge that he could be jailed.

But while the former president has been uncharacteristically restrained recently, a cast of Republican lawmakers and Trump surrogates have traveled to court to rail about the proceedings.

US Senators and even the Speaker of the House have trashed the trial just as prosecutors are calling their key witness, Trump's former fixer, Michael Cohen.

It's raised questions about whether the "surrogates" could be violating Trump's gag order.

Legal experts told Business Insider it hinges on whether Trump is directing them to speak — but warned that extending a gag to uninvolved parties could raise free speech concerns.

For now, Trump's pals appear free to attack the trial — as long as Trump isn't telling them to.

Allies rally to Trump's side

Trump's fleet of surrogates has included House Speaker Mike Johnson, Sens. JD Vance of Ohio and Rick Scott of Florida, and former presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy.

Some of the guests, including Vance and Gov. Doug Burgum, have been identified as formal campaign representatives in other appearances, such as on TV — further blurring the line.

They have been "speaking very beautifully," Trump said, blasting witnesses and Judge Juan Merchan's daughter.

On MSNBC, features writer Andrew Rice said he'd seen Trump in court "annotating and editing" the comments his surrogates were set to deliver.

A Trump campaign official told Business Insider that all supporters have volunteered to come to support their friend, and none were invited by the campaign.

Some have been transparent about their intent. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, who has been floated as a potential VP pick, told Newsmax one reason he attended was to "overcome this gag order."

Tuberville's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BI.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said on Thursday that a group of Republicans from the far-right House Freedom Caucus were in Manhattan to "stand with" Trump. She then tore into Cohen, Trump's former attorney.

"He wants President Trump to suffer that is why he has done what he has done," Boebert told reporters in a press conference held in a park near the courthouse. "That is why he has told the lies that he has, and we are here today to counter those as we stand for our friend President Donald J. Trump."

Under the gag order, Trump is not allowed to comment about Cohen.

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida later emphasized that the group was "here on our volition because there are things we can say that President Trump is unjustly not allowed to say."

Trump is walking a fine line

Andrew Lieb, an attorney and legal analyst, said it was a "close call" whether Trump's surrogates could cause further legal trouble given the fine line between whether he's directing or merely endorsing the support.

"Contempt of the gag order is no slam dunk because contempt requires the Judge to find that Trump is the one directing his surrogates," Lieb explained, though he warned: "Eventually, he is going to learn that if you keep touching the fire, you ultimately get burned."

If Trump's supporters suggest they were recruited to act on his behalf, "the court could hold a hearing to see if Trump was again in violation of the court's order," Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson told BI.

She said this could result in further fines or even jail time.

But Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, told BI that "practically speaking," Judge Merchan can do little to stop lawmakers from speaking on Trump's behalf.

"Elected officials have a right to campaign and discuss issues publicly," Rahmani said. "It's a free speech issue and a matter of public concern, which is entitled to the greatest First Amendment protection."

Former Indiana Attorney General Jeff Modisett added that the scope of gag orders typically applies "only to the parties directly involved in the case" and that courts have limited authority to impose them beyond that.

A judge could consider extending the gag order to Trump's surrogates if they were deemed to threaten the integrity of the trial, he said, but any such decision "would need to be carefully justified and balanced against the constitutional rights of free speech and press."

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