Trump Hush-Money Trial Set for April 15 as His Attempt at Delay Fails

Donald J. Trump is all but certain to become the first former American president to stand trial on criminal charges after a judge on Monday denied his effort to delay the proceeding and confirmed it would begin next month.

The trial, in which Mr. Trump will be accused of orchestrating the cover-up of a simmering sex scandal surrounding his 2016 presidential campaign, had originally been scheduled to start this week. But the judge, Juan M. Merchan, had pushed the start date to April 15 to allow Mr. Trump’s lawyers to review newly disclosed documents from a related federal investigation.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers had pushed for an even longer delay of 90 days and sought to have the case thrown out altogether. But in an hourlong hearing Monday, Justice Merchan slammed their arguments, rejecting them all.

In a particularly low moment for the defense team, the judge questioned the claims — and eventually, the résumé — of one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers as the former president looked on.

After a midmorning break, the judge returned to the courtroom, said that the former president had suffered no harm from the late disclosure of the documents and made the April 15 trial date final.

“Defendant has been given a reasonable amount of time,” the judge said crisply.

The ruling — coming nearly a year to the day after the Manhattan district attorney’s office obtained an indictment of Mr. Trump — makes it highly likely that the former president will go on trial next month even as three other criminal cases against him are mired in appeals and other delays.

The decision underscored the limits of Mr. Trump’s favored legal tactics, as Justice Merchan took the former president’s lawyers to task for what he characterized as overheated rhetoric and transparent attempts at foot-dragging.

He said that the defense’s allegations that prosecutors had made ethical errors related to the document disclosure were “incredibly serious, unbelievably serious,” and then scolded Mr. Trump’s lawyers for failing to substantiate their claims.

“You are literally accusing the Manhattan D.A.’s office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct and trying to make me complicit in it,” the judge said.

After the hearing, Mr. Trump pledged to appeal, attacking the district attorney’s case as “election interference.” He seemed to doubt — still — that the trial would take place, saying, “I don’t know how you can have a trial like this in the middle of an election, a presidential election.”

Mr. Trump’s other criminal cases are proceeding more slowly. Georgia prosecutors are unlikely to reach trial on election interference charges until after the presidential election. In Florida, a May trial on charges of mishandling classified documents is likely to be delayed; the Trump-appointed federal judge has not set a schedule despite holding a hearing to do so. And in Washington, a federal case charging Mr. Trump with plotting to overturn the 2020 election awaits the outcome of an April Supreme Court hearing, where the former president’s lawyers will argue that he has absolute immunity from prosecution.

The Manhattan case against Mr. Trump was brought by the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, and centers on a hush-money payment that Mr. Trump’s former fixer, Michael D. Cohen, made to the porn star Stormy Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Mr. Bragg accused Mr. Trump of orchestrating that payment to keep Ms. Daniels quiet about her account of having had sex with Mr. Trump, who denies the encounter ever happened. Prosecutors say that Mr. Trump then falsified documents to hide reimbursements to Mr. Cohen, who is expected to be the star witness in the trial.

But the proceeding was put on pause after federal prosecutors, who previously investigated Mr. Cohen, recently turned over thousands of documents.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers cast the disclosure as evidence of prosecutorial misconduct and urged Justice Merchan to dismiss the case. Mr. Bragg argued against further delays, saying that the new materials were largely irrelevant or duplicative. The tentative April 15 trial date, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday, provided “a more than reasonable amount of time” for Mr. Trump to review the information.

At the hearing, one of Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors, Matthew Colangelo, estimated that only about 300 documents were pertinent to the trial, a statement that the judge appeared to take seriously.

Justice Merchan has overseen other proceedings that involve Mr. Trump’s associates, including the criminal trial of his business, the Trump Organization, in 2022, and has become familiar with the former president’s tactic of delaying whenever possible. His decision showed the limits of that strategy and suggested that the hyperbole in which Mr. Trump’s lawyers sometimes engage could work against them at trial.

Monday could have been even worse for Mr. Trump, who was expected to have to post a half-billion dollar bond in a separate civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general. But the former president was spared by an appeals court, which said it would accept a far smaller bond. The decision staved off a looming financial disaster for Mr. Trump, who would otherwise have been at risk of losing control of his bank accounts and eventually, some of his marquee properties.

But Mr. Trump’s criminal case remains a serious obstacle as he seeks to return to the White House.

Almost from the beginning of Monday’s hearing, Justice Merchan seemed skeptical of the arguments of Todd Blanche, who spoke for the defense team. The judge pressed Mr. Blanche on the number of newly disclosed documents that the defense considered relevant to the hush-money trial, saying, “I just want to get a sense of how much time you need.”

Appearing taken aback, Mr. Blanche consulted papers on the desk before him, and said that the answer was “tens of thousands.”

Justice Merchan seemed dissatisfied. He said that Mr. Blanche was not answering his questions and that some of his statements were contradicted by the record. Eventually, the judge asked Mr. Blanche how long he had worked as a federal prosecutor, seeming to suggest that he should know better.

When Mr. Blanche stated that the number of documents he needed to review was so large, the judge rebuked him for not directly answering his question of how many were relevant.

Mr. Blanche apologized.

Maggie Haberman Michael Gold and Wesley Parnell contributed reporting.

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