Trump New York hush money criminal trial scheduled to begin in March

NEW YORK – A judge said Thursday that jury selection for Donald Trump’s trial would begin on March 25, setting a date with history for what would be the first criminal prosecution of an ex-president — one who also leads the Republican field of 2024 candidates for the White House.

Trump watched from a defense table in Manhattan criminal court as New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said he will go forward with the trial on charges the former president falsified business records during the heat of the 2016 political campaign in order to keep secret a past sexual liaison with an adult film star.

Defense attorney Todd Blanche pushed back hard, saying the defense team needs more time to prepare and that a trial will unfairly intervene with the former president’s quest to return to the White House. “We have been faced with extremely compressed and expedited schedules in each and every one of those trials,”

Merchan told Blanche — who is representing Trump in multiple cases — that he had “proceeded at your own peril” by taking up the cases and the work demands associated with them.

When Blanche tried to argue further, Merchan snapped, “Stop interrupting me please … I’ve tried to work with you.”

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There is still a chance the New York trial could end up taking a back seat to a separate federal case against Trump for allegedly conspiring to obstruct the results of the 2020 election. But those charges, filed in Washington, have been hung up for months on an appeals fight over Trump’s claims of presidential immunity. While one appeals court ruled unanimously against him, he may still try to make that argument to the Supreme Court, which could keep that trial on hold for weeks or months more.

But Merchan said at the hearing Thursday that he has been conferring with the D.C. trial judge and, after consulting with her, “we’re moving ahead to jury selection on March 25th.”

The charges in the New York business records case are related to Trump’s alleged misclassification of reimbursement payments to Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer. Cohen paid adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has accused Trump of reimbursing Cohen for that hush money with payments described as legal fees, when in fact they were a campaign expense meant to keep Trump’s presidential bid untarnished by tawdry allegations of a tryst.

Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records, a felony in New York where there is an intent to defraud that includes intent to “commit another crime or to aid or conceal” a crime. In announcing the charges, Bragg said the goal of Trump’s scheme was to cover up violations of New York election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to illegally promote a candidate. Bragg also said the $130,000 payment exceeded the federal campaign contribution cap.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and complains that these charges — and the three other indictments he faces — are politically motivated efforts to derail his White House candidacy. Besides the indictments in New York and Washington, he is charged in federal court in Florida with mishandling classified documents and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them, and he faces state charges in Georgia that he conspired with others to block the 2020 vote results in that state.

He has denied all wrongdoing.

Trump holds a wide lead among Republican candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, and a conviction would not bar him from running or holding office. There are different potential consequences for Trump in each of the cases.

A conviction in the New York case, for example, might or might not lead to a jail sentence, but it would be a conviction that even if elected, Trump could not expunge or erase, because it is a state case, not federal.

This is a developing story. It will be updated.

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