Judge Arthur Engoron presides over former President Donald Trump's fraud trial in New York.

Judge threatens to imprison Trump for violating gag order in New York fraud trial

The judge presiding over Donald Trump’s $250 million civil fraud trial on Friday fined the former president $5,000 and floated the idea of jailing him for defying a partial gag order requiring him to remove a post trashing the judge’s law clerk on social media.

Earlier in the day, Judge Arthur Engoron was livid when he revealed that Trump failed to comply with the order and raised the possibility of putting the former president in prison. Engoron said Trump had posted on his social media account “an untrue and disparaging post about my clerk” and that he “ordered him to remove the post immediately and he said he did take it down.”

He continued, “Despite this order, last night I learned the offending post was never removed from a website. This is a blatant violation of the gag order. I made it clear [that] failure to comply will result in serious sanctions.”

“Incendiary untruths can and have led to serious physical harm. I will now allow the defendant to explain why this should not end up with serious sanctions or I could possibly imprison him,” Engoron said.

In his ruling levying the fine, Engoron warned Trump against violating the gag order again.

“Make no mistake: future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions, which may include, but are not limited to, steeper financial penalties, holding Donald Trump in contempt of court, and possibly imprisoning him,” Engoron wrote.

Engoron said that though Trump said he removed the post, it remained on the former president’s 2024 campaign website for 17 days and was only removed late Thursday night after the court emailed him. The judge imposed the limited gag order in early October.

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In response, Trump’s defense attorney, Chris Kise said, “Based on my understanding this was truly inadvertent.”

“The Truth Social post was taken down when the court asked,” Kise said. “Truth Social was taken down and Trump never made any more comments about court staff, but it appears no one took it down on the campaign website. It is unfortunate and I apologize on behalf of my client.”

In his online posts and in public remarks to reporters, Trump implied that the clerk had an inappropriate relationship with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Schumer spokeswoman Allison Biasotti categorically denied the claim, calling it “pathetic,” “ridiculous, absurd and false.” She said that Schumer does not know the clerk.

Trump has also bashed Engoron in public statements and in emails sent out by his presidential campaign, including one criticizing the judge as a “far-left Democrat.”

Trump also faces a partial gag order in one of the four criminal cases against him. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who’s overseeing the D.C. election interference case, banned Trump from making statements about potential witnesses or disparaging comments about the prosecutors. Trump on Friday asked Chutkan to stay the gag order, saying that the order violates his First Amendment rights. Chutkan granted his request and temporarily paused the gag order Friday.

The New York civil fraud trial, which does not have a jury, began in early October. New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump in Sept. 2022, alleging that the former president and his two adult sons had engaged in efforts to inflate Trump’s personal net worth to attract favorable loan agreements. James alleges that there were more than 200 instances of fraud over a 10-year period.

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In a ruling allowing the trial to proceed, Engoron said that Trump committed fraud for years, inflating and deflating the value of his assets to his own benefit and overstating his wealth by billions.

The attorney general is seeking about $250 million in penalties and to permanently bar the Trump family from serving as officers of New York companies and prevent Trump from striking commercial real estate deals in the state for five years.

Adam Reiss

Adam Reiss is a reporter and producer for NBC and MSNBC.

Rebecca Shabad

Rebecca Shabad is a politics reporter for NBC News based in Washington.