Trump's hush-money trial to begin 15 April

2 weeks ago 23

Former President Donald Trump leaves a pre-trial hearing on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star, during a recess, with his defense team, in New York CityImage source, Reuters

By Kayla Epstein

Reporting from court in New York, BBC News

Donald Trump will face the first ever criminal trial of a former US president on 15 April, a judge has ruled, over hush money payments he made to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Mr Trump faces four criminal cases, but this may be the only one to make it to a courtroom before November's election.

The presidential candidate's lawyers had aimed to delay or dismiss the case.

Mr Trump, 77, faces fraud charges over payments he made to Ms Daniels before the 2016 election.

He has pleaded not guilty to all 34 charges, arguing the claims do not constitute "a crime".

During his bid to retake the White House, the former president and his legal team have sought to delay as many of his trials as possible.

But Justice Juan Merchan ruled on Monday that there was no reason to delay Mr Trump's hush money trial any further, despite the defence's arguments, and ordered the case to begin on 15 April.

After spending much of Monday morning sitting next to his attorneys inside the courtroom, Mr Trump told reporters that the case should be considered "election interference".

"It's a disgrace, and we will obviously be appealing," he said. "But this is a pure case of voter intimidation and election interference, and it shouldn't be allowed to happen."

The trial was originally set to begin with jury selection on Monday, but it was delayed after thousands of documents were released last week from the 2018 federal investigation into the payments to Ms Daniels.

Justice Merchan instead held a hearing on Monday centred on whether there had been any wrongdoing in the sudden release last week of more than 100,000 pages of documents related to the federal prosecutors' case.

Mr Trump's team had argued the Manhattan district attorney's office had engaged in misconduct by not doing enough to get the federal prosecutors to hand over the documents in a timely manner. They alleged prosecutors were attempting to "suppress" evidence.

The document release followed a request by Mr Trump's attorneys in January for records from the federal case. Justice Merchan questioned why the defence had not discussed the long wait with him earlier.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office had agreed to a delay of 30 days for the documents to be reviewed, but prosecutors said at the hearing that they believed only 300 new documents needed to be considered.

They said that they would be ready to go to trial in mid-April.

But Mr Trump's legal team pushed for more time to review the documents.

On Monday, Justice Merchan grilled Mr Trump's lawyer to specify how many of the "thousands" of documents they would consider relevant and requiring review for this case.

Mr Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, painted a broad picture of what was in the new batch, which he said included records from the Robert Mueller investigation - the federal inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

He alleged that the relevant records numbered in the thousands, rather than the 300 figure offered by prosecutors. Mr Trump's legal team required time to thoroughly study the documents, he argued.

"We got the material a week ago," Mr Blanche said. "We're still going through them."

The judge, however, appeared impatient and unpersuaded by the attorney's arguments, including the claim that prosecutors had acted unethically.

"You're literally accusing the Manhattan DA's office, and people assigned to this case, of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct and trying to make me complicit in it," Justice Merchan said.

Before adjourning for a break, the judge made it clear that he felt unconvinced by the arguments.

"It's odd that we're even here and that we've taken this time," he said.

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