Trump arrives at court for a hearing in his hush-money case after new evidence delayed his trial

AP , Monday 25 Mar 2024

Donald Trump's hush money case is set for a crucial hearing Monday as a New York judge weighs when, or even whether, the former president will go on trial after a postponement due to a last-minute document dump.

Former US President Donald Trump
FILE PHOTO: Former US President Donald Trump leaves Manhattan criminal court, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. AP


The presumptive Republican nominee arrived in court for a hearing in place of the long-planned start of jury selection in the first of his four criminal cases to go to trial. The trial has been put off until at least mid-April because of the recent delivery of tens of thousands of pages of records from a previous federal investigation.

Trump's lawyers argue that the delayed disclosures warrant dismissing the case or at least pushing it off three months. Prosecutors say there's little new material in the trove and no reason for further delay.

New York Judge Juan M. Merchan has summoned both sides to court Monday to explain what happened, so he can evaluate whether to fault or penalize anyone and decide on the next steps.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records. Manhattan prosecutors say he did it as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what Trump says were false stories of extramarital sex.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and says the prosecution is politically driven bunk. The prosecutor overseeing the case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, is a Democrat.

The case centers on allegations that Trump falsely logged $130,000 in payments as legal fees in his company's books “to disguise his and others’ criminal conduct,” as Bragg's deputies put it in a court document.

The money went to Trump's then-personal attorney Michael Cohen, but prosecutors say it wasn't for actual legal work. Rather, they say, Cohen was just recouping money he'd paid porn actor Stormy Daniels on Trump's behalf, so she wouldn't publicize her claim of a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Trump's lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payoff. He said Trump directed him to arrange it, and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but they never charged Trump with any crime related to the matter.

Cohen is now a key witness in Manhattan prosecutors' case against Trump.

Trump’s lawyers have said Bragg's office, in June, gave them a smidgen of materials from the federal investigation into Cohen. Then they got over 100,000 pages more after subpoenaing federal prosecutors themselves in January. The defense argues that prosecutors should have pursued all the records but instead stuck their heads in the sand, hoping to keep information from Trump.

The material hasn’t been made public. But Trump's lawyers said in a court filing that some of it is “exculpatory and favorable to the defense," adding that there's information that would have aided their own investigation and consequential legal filings earlier in the case.

Bragg's deputies have insisted they “engaged in good-faith and diligent efforts to obtain relevant information" from the federal probe. They argued in court filings that Trump's lawyers should have spoken up earlier if they believed those efforts were lacking.

Prosecutors maintain that, in any event, the vast majority of what ultimately came is irrelevant, duplicative, or backs up existing evidence about Cohen's well-known federal conviction. They acknowledged in a court filing that there was some relevant new material, including 172 pages of notes recording Cohen’s meetings with the office of former special counsel Robert Mueller, who investigated Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Prosecutors argued that their adversaries have enough time to work with the relevant material before a mid-April trial date and are just raising a “red herring.”

Trump's lawyers also have sought to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court rules on his claims of presidential immunity in his election interference case in Washington. The high court is set to hear arguments on April 25.

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