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

NEW YORK – Jury selection in Donald Trump's trial will begin on March 25, a judge said Thursday, setting a date with history for what would be the first criminal trial of a former president — who also leads Republican candidates for the 2024 nominations. White House.

Trump watched from the defense table in Manhattan Criminal Court as New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Mercant said he would continue the trial on allegations that Trump falsified business records to keep his past sexual relations secret during the 2016 political campaign. Adult film star. The judge said he expected the trial to take about six weeks.

On February 15, former President Donald Trump appeared in a Manhattan courtroom for a hearing that will determine whether his first criminal trial will begin in March. (Video: The Washington Post)

Defense attorney Todd Blanch pushed back, saying more time was needed to prepare the defense team and that a trial would unreasonably interfere with the former president's quest to return to the White House. He also noted that Trump is scheduled to stand trial in Florida in late May on charges of illegally possessing classified documents and obstructing government efforts to retrieve them. However, the judge in that case indicated that prosecutors could delay the proceedings to allow more time to review highly confidential testimony.

“In each of those trials we faced very compressed and accelerated schedules,” Blanche said.

In response, Merchan Blanche — who represents Trump in several lawsuits — said he “proceeded at your own peril” by taking on the cases and their associated work requests.

When Blanche tried to argue further, Merson snapped, “Please stop interrupting. … I tried to work with you.

Discussion in the courtroom quickly turned to jury selection, including what questions to ask potential jurors to ensure they can judge fairly in a trial that has no historical precedent and where the defendant is a deeply polarizing public figure.

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A separate federal case against Trump for allegedly conspiring to sway the 2020 election results is still likely to take a backseat to the New York trial. But those charges, filed in Washington, have been held up for months in an appeals battle over Trump's presidential immunity claims. Even if an appeals court unanimously ruled against him, Trump could still try to make that argument to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could delay that hearing for weeks or months.

At Thursday's hearing, DC trial judge U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Merson said he was consulting with Sutkan and after consulting with him, “we are moving forward with the arbitration on March 25.”

Allegations in the New York business records case allege Trump misclassified reimbursements to his former attorney and adjuster Michael Cohen. Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign, keeping quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. (Cohen pleaded guilty in the case and served 15 months in prison, including house arrest.)

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accused Trump of paying back Cohen with what he described as legal fees, but were actually a campaign expense to avoid tainting Trump's presidential bid by the damning allegations.

Trump faces 34 counts of false business records, a felony in New York, including “committing another felony or aiding or abetting a felony.” In announcing the charges, Bragg said the goal of Trump's scheme was to cover up violations of New York's election law, which makes it a crime to conspire to illegally promote a candidate. Bragg also said the $130,000 payment exceeded federal campaign contribution limits.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and complained that the charges — and the three others he faces — are politically motivated efforts to derail his White House bid. In addition to charges in New York, Florida and Washington, he faces state charges that he conspired with others to interfere with the 2020 vote in Georgia.

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The former president has denied any wrongdoing.

He was attentive but quiet in the New York courtroom during the hearing, which began shortly after 9:30 a.m. and ended shortly after 11 a.m., sitting at the defense table, where the former president often spoke briefly and whispered to the attorneys next to him. , and occasionally with Blanche. But he didn't speak or interrupt, and he kept a very combative presence during a civil trial in New York last month.

Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing, Trump said he would spend the evening campaigning to accommodate his criminal trial schedule, which runs through May. He called the investigation “a very unfair situation.”

“They want to keep me nice and busy so I can't campaign hard, but we don't have to campaign hard because the other side is incompetent,” Trump said. “I'm going to sit here for months for an investigation. I think it's ridiculous, it's unfair.

Trump has a wide lead among Republican candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, and a conviction would not prevent him from running or holding office. Trump has different potential outcomes in each case.

For example, a conviction in a New York case may or may not result in a prison sentence. But even if Trump is elected, it's a belief that because it's a state case, not federal, it can't be dismissed or overturned.

In Thursday morning's trial, potential jurors may be asked whether they are members of a fringe political group such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers or Antifa, the parties said. Although all the candidates are from Manhattan, where all the candidates live without cars or front lawns, prospective jurors want to ask if any of them have political bumper stickers on their cars.

Another question is whether they've read books by Cohen, a key witness in the case, or former prosecutor Mark Pomeranz, who wrote about his time investigating Trump for the Manhattan district attorney's office. Pomerantz's book was a major topic of controversy after Bragg decided not to bring a criminal case against the Trump Organization for alleged fraudulent business practices. In response, Pomerantz and another senior attorney resigned.

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Prosecutors and Trump's defense team disagree on how much to press potential jurors about past political donations. A proposed jury question — if they had ever contributed to a campaign or political action group — was too broad, attorney Joshua Steinglass argued to Merson.

Blanch said given the nature of the allegations against Trump — whether hush payments were made in campaign spending involving past and current presidential candidates — the issue of screening jurors could not be ignored. Blanch also said the court could not get away from the fact that someone who gave money for or against Trump in 2016, 2020 or 2024 could be unfairly biased.

The businessman expressed concern that such questions could go too far.

“If you're going to attack everybody in the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, you're going to get out,” he said.

With the trial over, Blanche tried once more to convince Merson to change his mind about the trial in late March. “We strongly object to what is happening in this courtroom,” he said.

“President Trump is going to be working on this trial for the next two months instead of going on the campaign trail,” Blanch continued, adding, “That's something that shouldn't happen in this country.”

Merson, who had lost patience with Blanche during the trial, urged him to come to the point.

“What is your legal argument?” asked the judge.

“This is my legal argument,” insisted Blanche.

“That's not a legal argument,” the judge concluded.

As Blanche left, someone at the back of the room clapped. It is not clear if the applause is in response to Blanche's comments or something else related.

“Peace among the spectators!” A court official said.

This developing story has been updated.

Marianne Levine in Washington contributed to this report.

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