Viral claims about Donald Trump’s hush money trial, fact checked

As former President Donald Trump’s historic criminal trial gets underway in New York this week, the CBS News Confirmed team has been tracking potentially misleading narratives that have gained some traction on social media. Here are three of the viral claims that have emerged during the trial so far and what to know about them. 

Claim 1: Judge Juan Merchan won’t let Trump go to his son’s graduation

On Monday, Trump posted to his nearly 7 million followers on Truth Social that Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial, likely will not allow him to go to his 18-year-old son Barron’s graduation in May.

“Who will explain for me, to my wonderful son, Barron, who is a GREAT Student at a fantastic School, that his Dad will likely not be allowed to attend his Graduation Ceremony, something that we have been talking about for years,” Trump wrote in a post that had garnered over 18,000 likes by Tuesday. 

The claim was echoed by others online, including his son Eric Trump, who posted on X that “Judge Merchan is truly heartless in not letting a father attend his son’s graduation.” 

The facts

Judge Merchan has not yet made any decision about whether Trump can attend his son’s graduation. But on Monday, he signaled that he’s open to it, although it is also possible that if the trial is behind schedule, he will not allow it. In an excerpt from the court transcript obtained by CBS News’ Graham Kates, Judge Merchan said this:

Regarding counsel’s request that the Court adjourn on Friday, May 17th for Mr. Trump to attend his son’s high school graduation and Friday June 3rd to allow a  member of the defense team to attend their son’s graduation, I cannot rule on those two requests at this time. It really depends on how we are doing on time and where we are in the trial. If everything is going according to schedule without unnecessary delays, then I am sure we will be able to adjourn for one or both of those days, but if we are running behind schedule, we will not be able to.

Claim 2: Stormy Daniels denies having an affair with Trump

In a tweet from April 10 flagged by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Monday as a potential violation of Trump’s gag order, Trump wrote on Truth Social: “Look what was just found! Will the fake news report it?” The post included a picture of a 2018 letter written by adult film star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, which included the statement, “I am denying this affair because it never happened.” 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican operative Roger Stone, and others shared the same picture in posts on X that attracted over 60,000 “likes.”

The facts

Although it was presented by Trump as being new, this letter from Daniels has been public knowledge since January 2018 — and she has since recanted it. A few months after she signed her name to it, in March 2018, Daniels went on “60 Minutes” to say she had been pressured into signing and releasing the letter by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and others. Daniels said that she did have an affair with Trump. 

Here’s what she said on “60 Minutes” to correspondent Anderson Cooper:

Anderson Cooper: So you signed and released — a statement that said, ‘I am not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money. I’m denying it because it never happened.’ That’s a lie? 

Stormy Daniels: Yes. 

Anderson Cooper:  If it was untruthful, why did you sign it? 

Stormy Daniels: Because they made it sound like I had no choice. 

She went on to tell Cooper that she felt there might be legal repercussions for not signing the letter.

“The exact sentence used was, ‘They can make your life hell in many different ways,'” she said. She believed “they” in that case was Michael Cohen.

Claim 3: Trump’s gag order is unconstitutional 

Trump posted on Truth Social Monday, “This Crooked Judge has GAGGED me. Unconstitutional! The other side can talk about me, but I am not allowed to talk about them!” The claim was later echoed by others on social media. 

The facts

Judge Merchan’s April 1 gag order prohibits Trump from speaking about witnesses, court staff, the family members of court staff, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s family, or Judge Merchan’s family. The judge said the order was necessary because some of Trump’s rhetoric might keep jurors, lawyers and court employees from performing their duties in the court. 

“This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to [Trump’s] cases serves no legitmate purpose,” Merchan wrote of Trump in the gag order. “It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game’ for Defendant’s vitriol.”

Trump is still allowed to criticize Judge Merchan or Bragg. And the former president may talk about the case publicly and call the trial political if he wishes.

Many legal experts argue Judge Merchan’s gag order is lawful and doesn’t interfere with Trump’s First Amendment rights. Duncan Levin, who worked in the district attorney’s office before Bragg, told Politifact that gag orders “with very limited exceptions have long been found not to violate the First Amendment… [Trump] is free to discuss the criminal justice system but not to make ad hominem attacks on particular people associated with the case.”

However, Trump’s lawyers have challenged the order and said it is unconstitutional because it curbs his free speech rights. Trump’s request to lift the order will now go to a five-judge panel for consideration. 

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