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Breaking down Trump’s attacks on the daughter of the judge in his New York hush-money trial


By Marshall Cohen, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump recently ramped up his attacks against the daughter of the judge presiding over his hush-money criminal trial in New York, and repeatedly cited her Democratic ties in a new attempt this week to remove the judge from the case.

Judge Juan Merchan then broadened an already-existing gag order Monday after Trump vilified Merchan’s daughter with a combination of accurate information about her political affiliations melded with dubious claims about her supposed anti-Trump online posts, which the court says don’t even belong to her.

The judge ruled that Trump’s “dangerous rhetoric” threatens the integrity of the looming trial, which is scheduled to begin April 15. Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to cover up payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in order to prevent her from speaking publicly before the 2016 election about their alleged affair.

Here are the facts about Trump’s recent attacks against Merchan’s daughter, and how this sideshow could affect the first-ever criminal trial of a former American president.

What did Trump claim?

There is a well-documented pattern of Trump attacking witnesses and bashing judges when he doesn’t like their testimony or rulings. He deployed this same tactic in the New York case, but went even farther by targeting Merchan’s adult daughter, Loren Merchan.

Last week, Trump posted on his Truth Social platform that Judge Merchan is a “certified Trump hater” and said Loren Merchan is a senior executive at “a Super Liberal Democrat firm” that has worked with top Democrats, including President Joe Biden.

Trump also peddled the discredited claimed that Loren Merchan posted an incendiary image of the former president behind bars on her social media account – an account that the court said didn’t even belong to her. Trump also claimed Judge Merchan has ruled against him in pretrial motions “because his daughter makes money by working to ‘Get Trump.’”

The focus on Merchan’s daughter began last year when the judge was assigned to the case. It flared up last week with an article about her in the conservative New York Post. Loren Merchan has not commented publicly on the case and couldn’t be reached by CNN.

What’s the truth about Merchan’s daughter?

It’s true that Loren Merchan has served as president of Authentic Campaigns, a firm that does digital campaign work like online fundraising, mobile messaging and web design. They work with Democratic political candidates, including some of Trump’s most outspoken opponents.

The firm has scrubbed references to her on its site, so it’s not entirely clear if she is still in this role at the company. Merchan wrote in an August ruling that his daughter was still the company’s president and chief operating officer at that time.

Furthermore, a screenshot purporting to be from Loren Merchan’s LinkedIn said she was the director of digital persuasion for now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign. The screenshot was captured last year by right-wing outlets before her LinkedIn page was made private.

When Trump previously invoked Merchan’s daughter while trying to disqualify him from the case, Merchan solicited a recommendation from the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics. They concluded that “the judge’s impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned based on the judge’s relative’s business and/or political activities.”

Who are Authentic’s clients?

It’s difficult to directly link Authentic to specific political ads, but the firm works for campaigns that have disparaged Trump, including for being charged with crimes.

Authentic Campaigns’ website features a list of clients, which includes Biden and Harris’ 2020 campaigns. Federal records indicate that Harris’ campaign paid the firm more than $7.5 million in 2019 for digital consulting and acquiring contact lists, and that Biden’s campaign paid the firm more than $2.1 million in 2020 for digital advertising and creative consulting.

The firm’s website also touts its work for Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the top PACs supporting Senate Democrats and House Democrats.

Trump singled out California Rep. Adam Schiff in his screed about Loren Merchan’s work – the latest jab in their feud that stems from Schiff’s role in Trump’s first impeachment in 2019. And his lawyers mentioned Schiff nearly 40 times in their recusal motion made public Friday.

Authentic claimed in 2020 that Schiff was one of its “biggest clients,” and federal records indicate that his current US Senate campaign has paid nearly $12 million to Authentic.

Facebook data says Schiff’s Senate campaign posted fundraising pitches that referenced Trump’s criminal case in New York, as well as his other criminal cases. However, it’s unclear if Authentic was involved in these specific ads. The Schiff campaign didn’t respond to CNN’s inquiries about these fundraising ads.

Some of the ads that Schiff posted after Trump was indicted in New York said, “there is no doubt Trump will weaponize this indictment for his political advantage” and that “Donald Trump is as dangerous as ever, trying to incite his followers to protest his arrest.”

What about the image of Trump in jail?

While Trump accurately noted Loren Merchan’s ties to prominent Democratic politicians, his claim that she tweeted a doctored image of him in prison is extremely dubious. He used the image to argue that Loren Merchan and her father are biased against him. His lawyers included these claims and images in Friday’s public filing, arguing that they reflect “hostility toward President Trump.”

The claim originated from Laura Loomer, a prominent right-wing conspiracy theorist.

But court officials in New York said in a statement that the account with the Trump-in-jail photo did not belong to Loren Merchan and was, in fact, an imposter trying to frame her.

“The X, formerly Twitter, account being attributed to Judge Merchan’s daughter no longer belongs to her since she deleted it approximately a year ago,” court spokesman Al Baker said last week. “It is not linked to her email address, nor has she posted under that screen name since she deleted the account. Rather, it represents the reconstitution, last April, and manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned.”

forensic review published by The Spectator, a conservative-leaning British outlet, bolstered Baker’s denial and undercut Trump’s attempt to tie the tweets to Merchan.

What is Trump doing about this?

Trump’s lawyers are using Loren Merchan’s political ties to try to get her father off the case – a move that has failed once before.

“Authentic’s commercial interests are benefitted by developments in this case that harm President Trump’s penal interests,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in a Monday letter to the judge, arguing that “the trial in this case will benefit Authentic financially by providing its clients more fodder” and explicitly saying, “Your Honor’s daughter will continue to earn money from these developments.”

In a motion made public Friday seeking Judge Merchan’s removal from the case, Trump’s lawyers claimed “at least six” of Authentic’s clients invoked the hush-money case in their fundraising pitches, and that the company earned $18 million from its clients since Trump was indicted in March 2023.

“It is now quite clear that Authentic has made money by assisting clients who have solicited donations using communications that specifically reference this case,” Trump’s lawyers wrote. “The Court’s future rulings stand to further benefit those clients by harming President Trump, while Authentic and Ms. Merchan make money in the process.”

In addition, they argued that if court officials can issue public statements about the fake Loren Merchan account on Twitter, then Trump must be able to speak out about the matter too.

What happened to the gag order?

New York prosecutors flagged Trump’s new posts for the judge and asked him to stiffen the gag order. Judge Merchan did just that on Monday, preventing Trump from publicly attacking his family or the family members of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

“This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose,” Merchan wrote, adding that “the threat is very real” that Trump’s recent rhetoric imperils “the integrity of the judicial proceedings.”

These new restrictions were tacked onto the existing gag order, which prohibits Trump from speaking about potential witnesses, courtroom staff, or members of Bragg’s team.

CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson, who used to work with Merchan, told CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday that Merchan made the “right call” with the gag order because Trump uses his “bully pulpit” to “gravely and dangerously” impact his perceived opponents.

“Everybody deserves fairness in a trial,” Jackson said. “But certainly, disparaging people for the sake of disparagement, that’s not political discourse. That is denigration to the point of endangering somebody. And (Merchan) balanced it, he drew that line.”

CNN’s Daniel Dale, Jeremy Herb, David Wright contributed to this report.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

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