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Week 4 of the Trump hush money case is about to get underway

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

New York Judge Juan Merchan has found for the second time that former President Donald Trump violated a gag order and that he is in contempt of court again. NPR political reporter Ximena Bustillo is with us now to bring us up to date. Good morning, Ximena.

XIMENA BUSTILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So what does this order say?

BUSTILLO: So Judge Juan Merchan has fined Trump $1,000 for one violation. Originally, prosecutors argued that there were four instances of violations, but the judge ultimately ruled that there was only one. This was one statement Trump made in an interview accusing the jury of being, quote, "95% Democrats." During the hearing last week, Merchan did say that this was one of the instances that gave him most concern. Prosecutors brought up comments made by Trump and various media outlets mostly commenting on past and potential future witnesses. Last week, Merchan fined Trump $9,000 for nine other gag order violations and warned him that jail time was an option.

MARTIN: So jail time is still an option.

BUSTILLO: Yes. And, in fact, this morning, the judge made it very clear, though that would be unprecedented since Trump is a former president and is running again for the highest office. But Merchan did take a few minutes this morning at the start to pointedly warn Trump that he is noticing that the $1,000 per violation penalty is not serving as a deterrent, and therefore, the court will have to consider jail as a sanction.

Now, Merchan also said that this would be disruptive to proceedings, and he's concerned about the court officers secret service and other personnel who would be moved around and disrupted for such an unprecedented move like this. But he said that he has a job to do and will do it if, quote, "necessary and appropriate." Now, in his written order, he also noted that this is the tenth time that the court finds Trump in criminal contempt, spanning three different motions. So that shows him that fines may simply not be enough.

MARTIN: OK, so let's talk about what we heard last week. Last week we heard from witnesses involved with some of the payments at the center of this trial. And also - we also began hearing from those close to Trump. Who else could we hear from this week?

BUSTILLO: So currently, this morning on the stand is Jeff McConney, the former controller of the Trump Organization. He is testifying to the inner workings of the Trump Organization. Prosecutors are likely to ask him about the payments made to two women ahead of the 2016 election that they allege are mislabeled as legal expenses. Now, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, the two women who received these payments, and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen are all expected to be witnesses brought up by the prosecution. So we don't know for sure who's up to speak.

MARTIN: And could Trump testify?

BUSTILLO: He could but only in his defense. So the prosecution won't call him up. Weeks ago, he told reporters that he would testify. That might change since prosecutors won the right to ask Trump about his past trials in New York if he does. Now, speaking with those of us who have been out in the hall outside the courtroom this last week, Trump said that the gag order we just talked about would not stop him from testifying. So he still hasn't confirmed if he plans to.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Ximena, thank you.

BUSTILLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.