Jail threat hangs over Trump as he returns to the campaign trail

By Adriana Gomes Licon, Scott Bauer and Michelle L. Price | Associated Press

WAUKESHA, Wis. — Donald Trump on Wednesday is using a one-day break from his hush money trial to rally voters in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan, a day after he was held in contempt of court and threatened with jail time for violating a gag order.

His remarks are being closely watched after he received a $9,000 fine for making public statements about people connected to the case. In imposing the fine for posts on Trump’s Truth Social account and campaign website, Judge Juan M. Merchan said that if Trump continued to violate his orders, he “will impose an incarceratory punishment.”

The former president is trying to achieve a balancing act unprecedented in American history by running for a second term as the presumptive Republican nominee while also fighting felony charges in New York. Trump frequently goes after Merchan, prosecutors and potential witnesses at his rallies and on social media, attack lines that play well with his supporters but that have potentially put him in further legal jeopardy.

Trump insists he is merely exercising his free speech rights, but the offending posts from his Truth Social account and campaign website were taken down. Merchan is weighing other alleged gag-order violations by Trump and will hear arguments on Thursday.

Trump appeared frustrated after the ninth day of the trial came to an end, saying he should be out in Georgia and New Hampshire instead of sitting in court.

“They don’t want me on the campaign trail,” he told reporters.

Trump has often called this case and other criminal cases against him “election interference,” saying they keep him from campaigning for the presidential election in November.

The gag order bars him from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and some others connected to his hush money case.

Manhattan prosecutors have argued Trump and his associates took part in an illegal scheme to influence the 2016 presidential campaign by purchasing and then burying negative stories. He has pleaded not guilty.

Trump’s visits to Wisconsin and Michigan mark his second trip to the swing states in just a month. For the previous rallies, the former president largely focused on immigration, referring to people who are in the U.S. illegally and who are suspected of crimes as “animals.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are hoping to remind voters ahead of these visits about Trump’s position on abortion, which Trump has been openly concerned about being a political liability for him and Republicans.

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Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan met on Wednesday with half a dozen women, including a family doctor, and warned that a second Trump term would threaten abortion rights even in her state, which enshrined those rights in its state constitution after the Supreme Court overturned national rights to the procedure.

Whitmer appeared with the women at a bookstore in Flint surrounded by signs that read “Stop Trump’s Attacks on Health Care” and “Stop Trump’s Abortion Ban.” She told reporters not to believe Trump’s contention in a Time Magazine interview that Republicans would never have enough votes in the U.S. Senate to pass a national abortion ban.

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“We cannot trust anything that Donald Trump says when it comes to abortion. So no one should take any comfort in the fact that, yes, he wants an abortion ban, but he won’t get it because he doesn’t think we’ll have 60 votes in the Senate. Baloney,” she said. “No one would have imagined we’d be here in this moment.”

Wisconsin and Michigan are among a handful of battleground states expected to decide the 2024 election.

For Trump to win both states, he must do well in suburban areas like the areas outside of Milwaukee and Saginaw, Michigan, where he will hold Wednesday’s events. He underperformed in suburban areas during this year’s primary even as he dominated the Republican field overall.

Trump has repeatedly falsely said that the 2020 election was stolen from him. Trump’s losses in battleground states in 2020 have withstood recounts, audits and reviews by the Justice Department and outside observers.

Gomez Licon reported from Miami, and Price reported from Freeland, Mich.

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