Trump is to be briefed on the rules after the district attorney fears he will use evidence to disparage witnesses

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump was ordered Thursday to appear via video at a hearing in his May 23 Manhattan criminal case after a judge issued rules this week barring him from using evidence in the case to attack witnesses.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan called the hybrid hearing — the former president on a TV screen, his lawyers and prosecutors in court — to go through the restrictions with Trump and make it clear he risks being disregarded if he breaks them.

The case is continuing in state court, even as Trump’s attorneys try to take it to federal court. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is reviewing the transfer request, issued an order this week setting deadlines for paperwork and a hearing for late June.

Merchan, who was still in charge during this drama, agreed to brief Trump on the rules via video rather than in person after a prosecutor reminded him last week that it would pose enormous security and logistical challenges, Trump to bring to court.

Trump’s April 4 indictment, in which he pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of forging business records, sparked a media and protester frenzy, including multiple road closures, additional security checks and the closure of non-Trump court businesses, for an afternoon.

“We’re going to set up the camera to put Mr. Trump where he is, and we’re going to do that virtually right here in the courtroom,” Merchan said.

Merchan issued a so-called protective order Monday, days after a hearing at which he asked Trump’s attorneys and prosecutors from the Manhattan DA’s office to compromise on the Republican’s access to and use of evidence presented by prosecutors before the trial. This type of exchange of evidence, also known as disclosure, is routine in criminal cases and is intended to help ensure a fair trial.

Prosecutors requested the order shortly after Trump’s arrest, citing that he had a history of making “harassing, embarrassing and threatening comments” toward people with whom he was involved in litigation.

Merchan added Trump’s virtual hearing to the court calendar a day after Trump appeared on a CNN forum, offering a barrage of falsehoods, excuses and insults on a variety of issues, including what he described as the “false allegation” of his criminal case.

Trump, who was found liable in a $5 million civil court ruling on Tuesday for the sexual abuse and defamation of writer E. Jean Carroll, argued to CNN that you “cannot get a fair trial” in New York City . He called Carroll a “complete moron,” labeled her claims that he assaulted her in the 1990s as “playing handkerchiefs in a dressing room,” and dismissed the allegations as “fake history, fabricated history.” He also slammed the judge in that case as a “terrible Clinton-appointed judge.”

Merchan’s protective order prohibits Trump and his attorneys from sharing evidence with third parties or posting it on social media. It also mandates that certain sensitive material shared by prosecutors can only be retained by Trump’s attorneys and not by Trump himself. Trump can review this material with his attorneys, but cannot copy or photograph it, the order said.

Noting Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate, Merchan made it clear at last week’s hearing that the protective order should not be construed as a silence order or a way to prevent Trump from speaking publicly on the case.

“I am doing my best to ensure he is given every opportunity to advance his candidacy and advocate for his candidacy,” Merchan said. “The last thing I want to do is violate his or anyone else’s First Amendment rights.”

Trump’s lawsuit relates to payments his company made to his former attorney, Michael Cohen. Prosecutors say these payments were intended to compensate and indemnify Cohen for staging hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to prevent allegations of extramarital sexual encounters.

In the absence of a move to federal court, Merchan expects the case to go to court next February or March, meaning Trump could be in court during next year’s primary.


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