NEW YORK (AP) - Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial judge threatened Friday to hold the former president in contempt, raising the possibility of fining or even jailing him because a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer remained visible for weeks on his campaign website after the judge had ordered it deleted.
Judge Arthur Engoron said the website’s retention of the post was a "blatant violation" of his Oct. 3 order requiring Trump to immediately delete the offending message. The limited gag order, hours after Trump made the post on the trial’s second day, also barred him and others involved in the case from personal attacks on members of Engoron's judicial staff.
Engoron did not immediately rule on potentially sanctioning Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, but noted that "in this current overheated climate" incendiary posts can and have led to harm.
Trump, who returned to the trial Tuesday and Wednesday after attending the first three days, wasn’t in court on Friday. During his appearance this week, he reserved his enmity for Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose fraud lawsuit is being decided at the civil trial. Neither are covered by Engoron’s limited gag order.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise blamed the "very large machine" of Trump’s presidential campaign for allowing a version of his deleted social media post to remain on his website, calling it an unintentional oversight.
Former US president Donald Trump addresses the media before leaving the courthouse for the day at the New York State Supreme Court in New York on October 18, 2023. Former president Donald Trump returned to his New York civil fraud trial on October 17
Engoron, however, said the buck ultimately stops with Trump — even if it was someone on his campaign who failed to remove the offending post.
"I’ll take this under advisement," Engoron said after Kise explained the mechanics of how Trump’s post was able to remain online. "But I want to be clear that Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine even if it’s a large machine."
Engoron issued a limited gag order on Oct. 3 barring all participants in the case not to smear court personnel after Trump publicly maligned his principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, in what the judge deemed a "disparaging, untrue and personally identifying" Truth Social post. The judge ordered Trump to delete the post, which he did, and warned of "serious sanctions" for violations.
The post included a photo of Greenfield, posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a public event. With it, Trump wrote that it was "disgraceful" that Greenfield was working with Engoron on the case.
Before Trump deleted the post from his Truth Social platform, as ordered, his campaign copied the message into an email blast. That email, with the subject line "ICYMI," was automatically archived on Trump’s website, Kise said.
Former US president Donald Trump leaves the courthouse for the day at the New York State Supreme Court in New York on October 18, 2023. Former president Donald Trump returned to his New York civil fraud trial on October 17, 2023 and complained about
The email was sent to about 25,800 recipients on the campaign’s media list and opened by about 6,700 of them, Kise told Engoron after obtaining the statistics at the morning break. In all, only 3,700 people viewed the post on Trump’s campaign website, the lawyer said.
"What happened appears truly inadvertent," Kise said. The lawyer pleaded ignorance to the technological complexities involved in amplifying Trump’s social media posts and public statements, calling the archiving "an unfortunate part of the campaign process."
"President Trump has not made any statements of any kind about court staff, has abided by the order completely, but it appears no one also took down the ICYMI — in case you missed it — link that is in the campaign website in the back pages," Kise explained.
New York law allows judges to impose fines or imprisonment as punishment for contempt. Last year, Engoron held Trump in contempt and fined him $110,000 for being slow to respond to a subpoena in the investigation that led to the lawsuit.
James’ lawsuit accuses Trump and his company of duping banks and insurers by giving them heavily inflated statements of Trump’s net worth and asset values. Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud, but the trial involves remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.