UNITED STATES

Judge sets March trial date in Donald Trump’s New York hush-money case

Feb 15, 2024, 7:59 AM | Updated: 8:03 am

Former president Donald Trump, Manhattan trial...

Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at a pre-trial hearing in a hush money case at Manhattan Criminal Court on February 15, 2024 in New York City. Trump is facing charges that he falsified business records to pay women hush money. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York judge says former President Donald Trump’s hush-money trial will go ahead as scheduled with jury selection starting on March 25.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan said Thursday that he made the decision after speaking with the judge in Trump’s now-delayed federal election interference case in the nation’s capital.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump arrived at a New York court on Thursday for a hearing that could decide whether the former president’s first criminal trial begins in just 39 days.

The hearing to determine whether Trump’s March 25 hush-money trial date holds will be held in the same Manhattan courtroom where he pleaded not guilty last April to 34 counts of falsifying business records in an alleged scheme to bury stories about extramarital affairs that arose during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump entered the courthouse shortly before 9 a.m.

It was Trump’s first return visit to court in the New York criminal case since that historic indictment made him the first ex-president charged with a crime. Since then, he has also been indicted in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C. In recent weeks, he’s blended campaign events with court appearances, attending on Monday a closed hearing in a Florida case charging him with hoarding classified records.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan has taken steps in recent weeks to prepare for a trial. If it goes off as planned, it would be the first of Trump’s criminal cases to go to trial.

Over the past year, Trump has lashed out at Merchan as a “Trump-hating judge,” asked him to step down from the case and sought to move the case from state court to federal court, all to no avail. Merchan has acknowledged making several small donations to Democrats, including $15 to Trump’s rival Joe Biden, but said he’s certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”

Thursday’s proceeding is part of a busy, overlapping stretch of legal activity for the Republican presidential front-runner, who has increasingly made his court involvement part of his political campaign.

The recent postponement of a March 4 trial date in Trump’s Washington, D.C. election interference case removed a major hurdle to starting the New York case on time.

Just as the New York hearing is getting underway, a judge in Atlanta is set to hear arguments Thursday over whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be disqualified from Trump’s Georgia election interference case because of a “personal relationship” with Nathan Wade, a special prosecutor she hired for the case.

Trump is also awaiting a decision, possibly as early as Friday, in a New York civil fraud case that threatens to upend his real estate empire. If the judge rules against Trump, who is accused of inflating his wealth to defraud banks, insurers and others, he could be on the hook for millions of dollars in penalties among other sanctions.

Along with clarifying the trial schedule, Merchan is also expected to rule on key pretrial issues, including a request by Trump’s lawyers to throw out the case, which they have decried in court papers as a “discombobulated package of politically motivated charges marred by legal defects.”

Trump’s lawyers, Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles, accuse Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, of bringing the case to interfere with Trump’s chances of retaking the White House. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., declined to pursue a case on the same allegations.

The charges are punishable by up to four years in prison, though there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in prison time.

The case centers on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about Trump having a child out of wedlock. Trump says he didn’t have any of the alleged sexual encounters.

Trump’s lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Trump’s company then paid Cohen $420,000 and logged the payments as legal expenses, not reimbursements, prosecutors said. Bragg charged Trump last year with falsifying internal records kept by his company, the Trump Organization, to hide the true nature of payments.

Trump’s legal team has argued that no crime was committed.
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Judge sets March trial date in Donald Trump’s New York hush-money case