NEW YORK CITY -- Former President Trump, side-by-side with his attorney Todd Blanche, scowled into a camera, his hands folded on the table, as he appeared virtually Tuesday for the judge presiding over his criminal case.
Judge Juan Merchan said Trump would stand trial March 25, 2024, at which point Trump appeared to flash an irritated expression, perhaps because the date conflicts with the primary calendar as he seeks to reclaim the presidency.
Merchan has previously indicated Trump, nor anyone else associated with the case, is allowed to schedule anything that would conflict with the trial, seemingly including campaign appearances, speeches or anything else that would take Trump away from court.
Trump, in a navy suit, white shirt and striped red tie, occasionally tapped his fingertips together while seated against a backdrop of American flags, a colorful contrast to the drab, wood paneled New York City courtroom of Judge Juan Merchan, who sought assurance that counsel had sufficiently explained the terms of the protective order to Trump.
"President Trump is running for President of the United States and is the leading contender," Blanche said. "He is very much concerned that his 1st Amendment rights are being violated."
However, Blanche acknowledged, and the judge reinforced, that the protective order is not a gag order.
"It's certainly not a gag order and it's not my intention to impede Mr. Trump to campaign for president," Merchan said. "He's free to do just about anything that does not violate the terms of this protective order."
The order prohibits Trump from publicly sharing evidence the defense receives from the Manhattan District Attorney's office as part of discovery.
Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records stemming from a $130,000 hush payment to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the closing weeks of the 2016 campaign.
Trump has been charged in connection with what prosecutors have called "an illegal scheme" to influence the 2016 presidential election by telling his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to pay $130,000 to Daniels to prevent her from publicizing a long-denied affair with Trump. Trump reimbursed Cohen through a series of monthly checks. Prosecutors said Trump caused business records to be falsified to disguise the true purpose of the payments.
The hearing comes a day after the plaintiff in the defamation case, writer E. Jean Carroll, filed a new claim seeking an additional $10 million or more to hold Trump liable for remarks he made bashing her on CNN the day after the May 9 verdict.
In the defamation case, a jury found that Trump sexually abused Carroll at a Manhattan department store in early spring 1996 and that he made false statements that damaged her reputation after she went public with her claims in a 2019 book.
Trump remained undeterred, writing on his Truth Social platform Tuesday that he "never met" Carroll and that her allegations were a "Fake, Made Up Story" and a "TOTAL SCAM."
"The Carroll case is part of the Democrats playbook to tarnish my name and person," Trump said, echoing his contention that his criminal case and other legal challenges are part of a politically motivated "witch hunt."
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
ALSO READ | Trump found liable of battery, defamation in E. Jean Carroll case
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