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Judge alters Trump’s gag order, letting him talk about witnesses, jury after hush money conviction

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge on Tuesday modified Donald Trump’s gag order, freeing the former president to comment publicly about witnesses and jurors in the hush money criminal trial that led to his felony conviction, but keeping others connected to the former president’s case off limits at least until he is sentenced July 11.

Judge Juan M. Merchan’s ruling — just days before Trump’s debate Thursday with President Joe Biden — clears the presumptive Republican nominee to again go on the attack against his former lawyer Michael Cohen, porn actor Stormy Daniels and other witnesses. Trump was convicted May 30 of falsifying records to cover up a potential sex scandal, making him the first ex-president convicted of a crime.

Trump’s lawyers had urged Merchan to lift the gag order completely, arguing there was nothing to justify continued restrictions on Trump’s First Amendment rights after the trial’s conclusion. Trump has said that the gag order has prevented him from defending himself while Cohen and Daniels continue to pillory him.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office asked Merchan to keep the gag order’s ban on comments about jurors, court staffers and the prosecution team in place at least until Trump is sentenced on July 11, but said last week they would be OK with allowing Trump to comment about witnesses now that the trial is over. Prosecutors had opposed lifting the ban on comments about the jury.

Trump was convicted on 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a hush money payment to Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election. She claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier, which he denies.

Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press