Trump’s first criminal trial will start March 25, judge says

Trump’s first criminal trial will start March 25, judge says

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump’s first criminal trial will start March 25, a judge ruled Thursday — meaning Trump will spend weeks in court instead of on the campaign trail as he pivots to a general election campaign against President Joe Biden.

Justice Juan Merchan set the trial date after denying Trump’s attempt to throw out the charges stemming from hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche repeatedly sought to postpone the trial date as Trump looked on from the defense table during Thursday’s hearing in Manhattan criminal court.

“We strenuously object to what is happening in this courtroom,” Blanche said during the hearing, which lasted more than 90 minutes. “The fact that President Trump is going to now spend the next two months working on this trial instead of out on the campaign trail running for president — it should not happen in this country.”

Blanche called the decision “completely election interference,” echoing remarks Trump himself made on his way into the courtroom.

In a 30-page ruling issued Thursday morning, Merchan denied Trump’s bid to dismiss the hush money charges. Trump had argued, among other things, that the prosecution by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, was politically motivated.

Those arguments, Merchan wrote, “strain credulity.” He wrote that prosecutors “have demonstrated that the investigation and ensuing prosecution commenced following public reporting of Defendant’s ties to criminal conduct that took place in New York prior to the 2016 presidential election.”

The trial is expected to last about six weeks.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records connected to the hush money payments. Trump allegedly arranged the payments through an intermediary in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign, intending to quash Daniels’ story of a sexual encounter with Trump.

According to the indictment, Trump falsified the payments in the Trump Organization’s corporate records and never reported the money on campaign finance documents as required.

The hush money case is one of four criminal trials Trump is facing as he barrels toward the Republican nomination. The schedules for the other three cases — two for attempting to overturn the 2020 election results and one for hoarding classified documents — remain unclear.

Prosecutors in those cases are pushing to start the trials before this year’s election, but Trump has sought to postpone them or have the cases dismissed entirely.

During the hearing, Merchan said he spoke twice last week to the judge overseeing Trump’s federal criminal case in Washington, D.C., U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, to coordinate scheduling.

The hearing Thursday also touched on jury selection for the March trial. Blanche argued that Trump’s many legal headaches have created not only scheduling difficulties, but also an “extraordinarily prejudicial” environment in which to choose jurors.

Pointing to two recent Trump trials — a civil fraud trial over a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Tish James and a defamation trial over a lawsuit brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll — Blanche complained about “the outsized and extraordinary media saturation that we are experiencing in this city right now,” suggesting it would complicate the task of finding unbiased jurors for a March trial.

When Merchan asked whether Blanche had finished arguing about the trial date, Blanche responded: “I would like to talk about it all day, judge.”

The lawyers also discussed proposed questions to be posed to prospective jurors. Prosecutors requested questions such as whether jurors believe the 2020 election was stolen. Trump’s lawyers also suggested questions, including one about whether a prospective juror has ever contributed to a political campaign or political action committee.

Trump didn’t speak in court on Thursday beyond leaning over and whispering to one of his lawyers throughout the proceeding.

On his way out of the courthouse, however, Trump told reporters that “they want to keep me nice and busy so I can’t campaign so hard,” vowing to attend his trial during the day and hit the trail each evening.

“So instead of being in South Carolina and other states campaigning, I’m stuck here in an election interference case,” he said. “Nobody’s ever seen anything like it in this country.”

Christine Zhu contributed to this report.

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