House GOP Chairwoman Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) declared “victory” on Thursday after an appeals court lifted a gag order imposed on former President Donald Trump in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York.
“VICTORY,” declared Ms. Stefanik, who wrote to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Nov. 10 expressing "serious concerns" about New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, the judge overseeing the trial.
"I am pleased to see that after my ethics complaint ... an appellate court has lifted the unconstitutional gag order against President Trump," Ms. Stefanik said in a statement.
Justice Engoron first issued the gag order on Oct. 3, one day after the trial began. The order prohibits President Trump from making any statements about the judge's staff and his communication with them.
Justice Friedman lifted the gag order on Thursday, noting the "constitutional and statutory rights at issue."
He questioned Justice Engoron’s authority to police President Trump’s speech outside the courtroom, saying gag orders are often issued in criminal cases in which the defendant may influence a jury.
The trial centers around accusations in a lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who alleges that President Trump and the Trump Organization have defrauded the state by artificially inflating his net worth.
Justice Engoron had granted the attorney general's office a summary judgment in their favor, finding President Trump liable for fraud, a week before the trial.
As such, the trial will only deal with the penalties President Trump will need to face. Ms. James wants $250 million in damages and to bar President Trump and other executives from doing business in the state for five years.
President Trump has attended the trial regularly and provides updates to the press.
His lawyers have clashed with the judge, at times having drawn-out arguments in court, accusing the judge of bias for permitting the prosecution's questions while overruling theirs, as well as other issues.
One such issue relates to the judge's principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who sits alongside Justice Engoron in court.
Defense attorneys noted Ms. Greenfield "rolling her eyes" during their questioning of witnesses and passing notes to the judge, who frequently consults her during the trial. Justice Engoron has become angry when defense attorneys noted this.
After President Trump made a post on Truth Social about Ms. Greenfield, Justice Engoron verbally ordered the gag order on the trial's second day.
The post showed a photo of Ms. Greenfield posing with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a political event and a caption that linked to her Instagram account.
The post was deleted 10 minutes after Justice Engoron was made aware of it.
After an archived copy of the post was discovered on a campaign website, President Trump was fined $5,000. He received another $10,000 fine after giving remarks to the press about a "partisan" person sitting "alongside" the judge without using a name.
This led to defense attorneys arguing with Justice Engoron about the appearance of impropriety and, later, potential bias in the case.
The judge responded by expanding the gag order to prohibit defense attorneys from making statements about his staff or about the communications between himself and his staff.
"We must fight to protect all defendants' First Amendment and due-process rights," said Ms. Stefanik on Thursday.
She underscored the significance of this case beyond the confines of President Trump's involvement, cautioning against potential repercussions for others facing similar legal situations.
"This is so much bigger than President Trump. If Democrats can do this to a billionaire, former president, and leading presidential candidate, just imagine what they can do to the rest of us," Ms. Stefanik asserted.
“That's why I filed my ethics complaint against Judge Engoron, and I will continue to fight for all New Yorkers,” she added.