Prosecutors open to delaying Trump’s March hush-money trial

Prosecutors say they are open to delaying the start of Donald Trump’s New York hush-money criminal trial by a month “in an abundance of caution” to give the former president’s lawyers time to review evidence they only recently obtained from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office said in a court filing Thursday that it does not oppose adjourning the trial for 30 days, but said it would fight the defense’s demand for a longer delay. Judge Juan Manuel Merchan did not immediately rule.

Jury selection is scheduled for March 25. The hush-money case is one of four criminal indictments against Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Trump’s legal team said it has received tens of thousands of pages of evidence from the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan in the last two weeks, including records about former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that it says are “exculpatory and favorable to the defense.” Prosecutors contend the newly turned over material is “largely irrelevant to the subject matter of this case.”

Trump’s lawyers want a 90-day delay at minimum, but they’ve also asked Merchan to dismiss the case entirely, alleging the last-minute disclosures amounted to prosecutorial misconduct and violated rules governing the sharing of evidence. That process, called discovery, is routine in criminal cases and is intended to help ensure a fair trial.

Short trial delays because of evidence issues aren’t unusual, but any delay in a case involving Trump would be significant, with trial dates in his other criminal cases up in the air and election day less than eight months away.

The defense has also sought to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s presidential immunity claims, which his lawyers say could apply to some of the allegations and evidence in the hush-money case. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments April 25.

Since March 4, Trump’s lawyers have received at least 84,000 pages of records from the U.S. attorney’s office, including a batch of 31,000 pages on Wednesday, according to a court filing.

The New York case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer and fixer 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 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.

Trump has repeatedly sought to delay the start of his criminal trials.

“We want delays,” Trump said to reporters at a pretrial hearing in the New York case on Feb. 15. “Obviously I’m running for election. How can you run for election if you’re sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?”

The deluge of evidence that spurred Trump’s lawyers to request a delay pertains to a federal investigation into the hush-money matter that sent Cohen to prison.

After a decade of working for Trump, Cohen broke with his boss in 2018 and soon pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the hush-money payments, making false statements on a bank loan application, evading taxes related to his investments in the taxi industry and lying to Congress. The contributions were in the form of payouts to women who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump, who denied them.

Cohen served about a year in prison before being released to home confinement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He became an outspoken Trump foe and is poised to be a key prosecution witness in the hush-money trial. Trump and his lawyers, meanwhile, have portrayed Cohen as untrustworthy.

Although federal prosecutors said in their case against Cohen that the hush-money payments were done to benefit Trump, and occurred with his knowledge, they stopped short at the time of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice and guidance to executive branch agencies, has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The U.S. attorney in Manhattan didn’t revive the investigation once Trump left the White House.

Sisak, Peltz and Offenhartz write for the Associated Press.

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