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Judge rejects Donald Trump's request to delay hush money trial

Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan deemed the former president’s request untimely, ruling that his lawyers had opportunities to raise issues earlier.
Judge rejects Donald Trump's request to delay hush money trial
Posted at 7:19 PM, Apr 03, 2024

A judge on Wednesday rejected Donald Trump's bid to delay his April 15 hush money criminal trial until the Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan deemed the former president's request untimely, ruling that his lawyers had “myriad opportunities” to raise the immunity issue before they finally did so in a March 7 court filing.

The timing of the defense filing "raises real questions about the sincerity and actual purpose of the motion," Merchan wrote in a six-page decision.

Lawyers for Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, had asked last month to adjourn the New York trial indefinitely until Trump’s immunity claim in his Washington, D.C., election interference case is resolved.

Merchan previously chided Trump’s lawyers for missing a filing deadline, waiting until 2 1/2 weeks before jury selection to raise the immunity issue and failing to "explain the reason for the late filing."

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Trump contends he is immune from prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. His lawyers argue some evidence in the hush money case is from his time in the White House and constitutes official acts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on April 25.

Trump first raised the immunity issue in his Washington criminal case, which involves allegations that he worked to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche declined comment. The Manhattan district attorney’s office also declined to comment.

Trump's hush money trial, the first of his four criminal cases scheduled to go before a jury, was delayed from March 25 to April 15 because of another issue.

His lawyers have continued to push in recent weeks for more delays. In separate court filings, they urged Merchan to delay the trial indefinitely until "prejudicial media coverage" subsides and claimed he won’t get a fair shake in heavily Democratic Manhattan.

Prosecutors balked at that request Wednesday, arguing that publicity about the case is “unlikely to recede” and that the jury selection process, with additional questions designed to detect biases, will allow them to pick an impartial jury. Further, they said, Trump’s "own incessant rhetoric is generating significant publicity, and it would be perverse to reward defendant with an adjournment based on media attention he is actively seeking."

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump’s lawyers argue that some evidence Manhattan prosecutors plan to introduce at the hush money trial, including messages he posted on social media in 2018 about money paid to Cohen, were from his time as president and constituted official acts.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

A federal judge last year rejected Trump’s claim that allegations in the hush money indictment involved official duties, nixing his bid to move the case from state court to federal court. Had the case been moved to federal court, Trump’s lawyers could’ve tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official duties.

The question of whether a former president is immune from federal prosecution for official acts taken in office is legally untested.

Prosecutors in the Washington case have said no such immunity exists and that, in any event, none of the actions Trump is alleged to have taken in the indictment charging him with plotting to overturn the 2020 presidential election after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden count as official acts.

The trial judge in Washington and a federal appeals court have both ruled against Trump, but the high court agreed last month to give the matter fresh consideration — a decision that delays the federal case in Washington and injects fresh uncertainty as to when it might reach trial.

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