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Trump Returns To New York Fraud Trial, Complains About Gag Order

New York:

Former president Donald Trump returned to his New York civil fraud trial on Tuesday and complained about a partial gag order imposed on him by a judge in a separate case.

Trump's former personal lawyer-turned-foe Michael Cohen had been scheduled to testify at the trial on Tuesday but delayed his appearance to attend to what he said was a medical issue.

The 77-year-old Trump spoke to reporters as he arrived at the Manhattan courtroom, attacking New York attorney general Letitia James, who brought the civil fraud case against him, the judge presiding over the trial, and President Joe Biden.

"This is a witch hunt by a radical, lunatic attorney general," Trump said.

"This is a rigged trial," he added, with a "Democrat judge" who is "very liberal."

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, also claimed, falsely, that the federal judge who will preside over his trial in Washington for conspiring to overturn the 2020 US election had taken away his "right to speak."

"My speech has been taken away from me," he said. "I'm a candidate that's running for office and I'm not allowed to speak.

"This is a railroading that's all coming out of the Department of Justice," the former president said. "It's all set up by Biden and his thugs that he's surrounded with to try and sneak out an election victory that he's not entitled to win."

US District Judge Tanya Chutkan did not take away Trump's right to speak. Rather, she ordered him not to make public statements targeting prosecutors, court staff or potential witnesses ahead of the trial scheduled to begin in Washington in March 2024.

Chutkan's ruling came after special counsel Jack Smith, a frequent target of Trump's vitriol, filed a motion claiming that the real estate tycoon's inflammatory rhetoric threatened to undermine his trial for election subversion.

In her written order released on Tuesday, Chutkan noted that individuals have been "threatened and harassed" following public statements by the former president.

"(Trump) has made those statements to national audiences using language communicating not merely that he believes the process to be illegitimate, but also that particular individuals involved in it are liars, or 'thugs,' or deserve death," the judge said.

She said the partial gag order applied only to comments about prosecutors, court staff and witnesses and Trump is free to make statements "criticizing the government generally, including the current administration or the Department of Justice."

He is also free to assert his innocence, claim that his prosecution is politically motivated and criticize his political rivals, Chutkan said.

- $250 million penalty -

Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the New York civil fraud trial, also slapped a limited gag order on the former president this month after he insulted a court clerk in a social media post.

Trump is not required to attend the trial in New York, but he showed up for the first three days of it and has used his appearances to portray himself as the victim of a Democratic plot to interfere in his presidential campaign.

New York's attorney general has accused Trump, his sons Eric and Don Jr and other executives of the Trump Organization of colossally inflating the value of their real estate assets in order to receive more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.

Trump does not risk going to jail in the fraud trial, but James, a Democrat, is seeking $250 million in penalties and the removal of the former president and his sons from the management of the family empire.

The federal election conspiracy trial is due to open on March 4 in Washington, the day before one of the biggest events in the Republican primary calendar, so-called "Super Tuesday," when around 15 states hold their nominating votes.

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