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Trump attends N.Y. court hearing as judge orders criminal trial to proceed next month

In World
February 16, 2024

The judge presiding over Donald Trump‘s New York criminal trial on Thursday denied his bid to dismiss the charges against him and ordered his trial to proceed as scheduled next month.

The “defendant’s motions to dismiss have been denied,” Judge Juan Merchan told the packed Manhattan courtroom, which included the former president at the defense table. “We will move ahead with jury selection on March 25th.”

He said he expected the trial would last about six weeks.

“It’s a disgraceful situation,” Trump complained to reporters after the hearing, saying, “I’m going to have to sit here for months on a trial” in a “rigged state, a rigged city.” “It’s ridiculous,” the GOP presidential candidate added. “I’ll be here during the day and campaigning during the night.”

Trump attorney Todd Blanche told the judge in court that moving ahead with trial on that date would be a “great injustice” given his other legal cases, an argument the judge batted aside. “You knew about this case,” he told Blanche. The lawyer maintained that date would be “election interference” because of the presidential primaries that month.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo noted Blanche had told his office the March 25 date would “minimize disruption” to his client because there are only a few primaries during that time, and called his current stance part of “a continued pattern to evade accountability.”

Both sides then went over questions for potential jurors in the case, including whether they’ve read any books by Trump or his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who is expected to testify for the prosecution.

Before the hearing finished, Blanche again objected to the trial date, complaining his client “will spend the next two months preparing for this trial during a campaign. It is just not something that should happen in this country.”

“See you March 25th,” the judge said.

Trump faces 34 felony charges in the case, which centers on allegations he falsified business records to cover up hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office brought the charges almost a year ago.

“We look forward to presenting our case in court,” Bragg said in a statement after the hearing.

The case was the first of what is now four criminal cases Trump faces, and it is the first time any former president had been indicted. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases and claimed they’re all part of a political “witch hunt” designed to hurt his 2024 run for the White House.

Merchan had already scheduled the trial for March 25, but that date came under question after a judge scheduled the trial in Trump’s federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., for March 4. That judge, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, said publicly that she spoke to Merchan about rescheduling the New York case before she did so.

Merchan, however, never officially rescheduled the case, and now the election interference trial has been put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether to hear Trump’s claim that presidential immunity protects him from the charges in that case.

The judge said he spoke with Chutkan last week to “discuss scheduling” and there’s now no conflict with that case.

Another federal criminal case alleging Trump mishandled national security information and tried to hide classified documents from the government is scheduled to go to trial in May, but the judge in that case, Aileen Cannon, is widely expected to push that date back because of complaints from Trump’s lawyers about the amount of evidence they have to review.

A fourth criminal case, a state racketeering case in Georgia alleging Trump conspired to illegally overturn the 2020 election results in the state, doesn’t yet have a trial date. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ office has asked the judge to schedule one for August.

The judge in the Fulton County case was holding a hearing Thursday involving Trump co-defendant Michael Roman’s bid to disqualify Willis and dismiss the charges, requests Trump has joined.

In the New York case, Trump had asked Merchan to dismiss the criminal charges for a variety of reasons, including one arguing that he’s the victim of “selective prosecution,” that the DA took too long to bring the case and that the charges were “legally insufficient.”

The judge knocked all those claims down in a 30-page ruling. “The People claim that the Defendant paid an individual $130,000 to conceal a sexual encounter in an effort to influence the 2016 Presidential election and then falsified 34 business records to cover up the payoff. In this Court’s view, those are serious allegations,” he wrote, while finding the DA’s delay in bringing the case reasonable given the complexities involved.

He also shot down Trump’s claim that he’s been “prejudiced” by the delay, saying he didn’t present any corroboration supporting the assertion or say “how or why.”

“In fact, this claim runs contrary to Defendant’s repeated assertions that his political campaign for President of the United States has actually been bolstered by the criminal charges,” Merchan wrote.

A grand jury indicted Trump on 34 felony counts last March. All the counts are tied to payments Trump made to reimburse his former lawyer Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Daniels to stay quiet during the 2016 election about her alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.

Trump has denied that he slept with Daniels, but he has acknowledged repaying Cohen. His attorneys have said he signed off on the payments — marked in his company’s books as legal payments — because he didn’t want to upset his wife by having the allegations become public.

The DA has said the real reason Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records” was to hide “damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

Falsifying business records in the first degree is a class E felony in New York. Each charge carries a maximum of four years in prison, which in most cases would be served concurrently. Legal analysts have said it is unlikely Trump would serve any prison time, but not all agree.

“The actual charges are felony charges. Certainly, prison time is a possibility,” said Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor who’s now a white-collar defense lawyer. “The stakes are very high.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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