Judge in Stormy Daniels Case Denies Trump’s Last Ditch Bid To Delay His Trial, All But Ensuring It Will Begin This Month

The judge has also been unmoved by Mr. Trump’s demands he recuse himself due to the political work his daughter, Loren Merchan, does for far-left Democratic clients.

Steven Hirsch-pool/Getty Images
President Trump talks to attorney Susan Necheles during a pre-trial hearing in his hush money trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on February 15, 2024. Steven Hirsch-pool/Getty Images

A last minute request by President Trump to delay his hush-money trial until after the Supreme Court weighs his claim on presidential immunity was rejected by a New York state judge on Wednesday.

“Defendant’s motion is DENIED in its entirety as untimely,” the Manhattan Supreme Court justice, Juan Merchan, ruled. “This Court finds that Defendant had a myriad of opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024.” 

Judge Merchan noted that pre-trial motions are supposed to be filed within 45 days of arraignment. Mr. Trump was arraigned in this case last year, on April 4. The judge further found that the fact that Trump had waited until “a mere 17 days” prior to the originally scheduled trial date, March 25, to file his motion, “raises real questions about the sincerity and actual purpose” of the request. 

The criminal case, brought by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, centers on an alleged hush-money payment Mr. Trump made to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to prevent her from publicizing a sexual encounter she claims to have had with Mr. Trump, in an attempt to hide the sex scandal from American voters. The prosecution alleges that just before the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump directed his then-lawyer and current nemesis, Michael Cohen to pay the porn star $130,000 in exchange for her signature on a non-disclosure agreement. After Mr. Trump became president, the district attorney further alleges, he repaid Cohen the money in the form of fraudulently recorded checks, ledger entries and invoices. Mr. Trump denies the extramarital encounter and has pleaded innocent to all charges.  

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Mr. Bragg is employing a novel legal strategy as he attempts to win a felony conviction for what is normally a misdemeanor. The district attorney will seek to convince a jury that the hush money payment was made in order to commit a second, undisclosed crime, making the offenses a felony under a rarely used New York law. Mr. Bragg is keeping the “second crime” a secret to give him more flexibility during the trial. A felony conviction could subject Mr. Trump to a brief prison term, a goal of many of his antagonists. That is viewed an unlikely outcome by many legal experts. 

Mr. Trump’s defense team had filed a motion in early March, asking the court to adjourn the trial, “pending review of the scope of the presidential immunity doctrine,” his attorneys wrote, which the Supreme Court decided to hear on February 28, and which is to be argued before the Nine on April 25. 

In their arguments, Mr. Trump’s attorneys referred to a motion the district attorney had filed on February 22, in which they sought to submit evidence concerning, as the defense describes it, “a fictitious so-called ‘pressure campaign’ by President Trump in 2018 relating to Michael Cohen.” 

Although Mr. Bragg, defense attorneys said, did not specify what kind of evidence exactly he intended to submit, “it appears that the evidence includes public statements by President Trump and posts to his official Twitter account, as well as testimony from unspecified witnesses.” Because Mr. Trump was president in 2018, the defense concluded, the claim to presidential immunity was warranted and relevant. 

Loren Merchan, Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter, has worked as a Democratic operative. Facebook

But the judge fired back that the defense was “indeed aware and had notice of the People’s intent, well before he filed this motion, and he has failed to demonstrate good cause for the late filing.” 

The judge dismissed Mr. Trump’s arguments that any actions he undertook, or statements he made, while he was the sitting president, should be considered as presidential acts. “Specifically,” the judge wrote, “the Defendant argues that he is intended to immunity ‘for acts within the ‘outer perimeter’ of his official responsibility.” 

Judge Merchan reminded the defense team that they had raised similar arguments when they unsuccessfully tried to move the case to federal court last year. 

In June, the defense had argued before a federal district court judge that the payments Mr. Trump made to Michael Cohen were part of Mr. Trump’s effort to separate his presidential affairs from his private business. 

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, during a news conference February 7, 2023.
The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, during a news conference February 7, 2023. AP/Seth Wenig, file

“After all,” the judge wrote, “Defendant had already briefed the same issue in federal court and he was in possession of, and aware that, the People intended to offer the relevant evidence at trial that entire time. The circumstances, viewed as a whole, test this Court’s credulity.” 

In a footnote in Wednesday’s decision, the judge decided that Mr. Trump “does not appear to raise a claim of presidential immunity” that applies to him allegedly hiding the sex scandal.

The judge’s ruling makes it all but certain that, despite Mr. Trump’s exertions, the first criminal trial of a former U.S. president will begin later this month. This comes despite the defense’s efforts to make Judge Merchan recuse himself due to his adult daughter’s work as a Democratic operative.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced Loren Merchan, who heads an agency, Authentic Campaigns, that works with Democratic clients including Mr. Trump’s enemies, Vice President Harris and Representative Adam Schiff. Judge Merchan refused the defense’s entreaties that he recuse himself. He also this week gagged Mr. Trump from criticizing Ms. Merchan, or Mr. Bragg’s family members. 

Michael Cohen at New York supreme court, October 24, 2023.
Michael Cohen at New York supreme court, October 24, 2023. AP/Stefan Jeremiah, file

Despite the gag, Mr. Trump has continued to repost content critical of Ms. Merchan. On Wednesday evening, on his social media platform, Truth Social, Mr. Trump re-posted a report by Laura Loomer, a conservative journalist who has been investigating Ms. Merchan. In her report, published  by Mr. Trump, Ms. Loomer laid out what she said is more evidence of Ms. Merchan’s links to far-left Democrats and to campaigns against Mr. Trump.

On April1, the defense asked Judge Merchan for permission to file a second motion for recusal, after a first attempt was denied last year. The district attorney opposed the request on April 2. Judge Merchan has yet to respond.

The New York Sun

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