Skip to Content

What to watch for at Trump’s New York hush money hearing

By Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

New York (CNN) — A date for Donald Trump’s first criminal trial has been set in the former president’s New York criminal hush money case.

With Trump in attendance at the hearing in downtown Manhattan, New York state Judge Juan Merchan confirmed that the former president’s trial will begin on March 25, as originally scheduled, on charges that Trump falsified business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.

The decision helps solidify the former president’s legal calendar that is filling up at the same time that his 2024 campaign is closing in on the Republican nomination for president.

The date of the New York trial had been in limbo in part because Trump’s federal trial in Washington, DC, on election subversion charges had initially been scheduled for March, too, but that is now on hold while Trump is attempting have the charges dismissed on claims of presidential immunity. He has asked the Supreme Court to step in, which could further delay the federal trial.

That would likely make the New York hush money case the first of Trump’s election-year trials.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was the first to charge Trump last year, accusing him in a 34-count indictment of falsifying business records as part of a cover up to conceal hush money payments before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Trump. Trump denies the affair and has pleaded not guilty.

Here’s what to know heading into Thursday’s hearing:

Trump sought to dismiss the case or various charges

Merchan on Thursday rejected Trump’s long-shot motion to dismiss the entire case. Arguments that will likely be at the crux of the former president’s trial defense may also be ruled on.

Trump and his lawyers have accused Bragg of resurrecting a “zombie” case six years too late to serve a political agenda to interfere with Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.

Bragg has also endured negative speculation from critics who argue the case is thin and question whether it passes legal muster.

Prosecutors allege Trump conspired with his former personal attorney Michael Cohen in a scheme to buy Daniels’ silence ahead of the 2016 election and falsified business records to hide reimbursements checks to Cohen who facilitated the $130,00 payment to Daniels. They allege Trump was aware of falsified invoices, reimbursement checks to Cohen and how those reimbursements were recorded in an attempt to commit or conceal several crimes, including election law, tax laws and the falsification of other business records.

Trump’s lawyers have said he paid Cohen through his personal accounts — not involving business records.

If he doesn’t toss the entire case, Trump lawyers have said Merchan should at least dismiss charges they argue are multiplicitous, because he currently faces more than one count for each of the 11 reimbursement payments to Cohen.

The parties may also argue Thursday over who Trump can call in his defense case at trial, including campaign finance experts.

Trump’s attorneys have also asked Merchan to consider holding a hearing over alleged grand jury leaks — the typically secretive judicial process was widely reported in national news ahead of the indictment.

They also want the judge to compel more specific information from prosecutors about their evidence relating to Trump’s alleged intent to defraud. Trump’s lawyers have said the grand jury didn’t hear evidence that the former president knew about the scheme or intended to defraud anyone.

Prosecutors told the judge the six-year delay was “justified” since there was an ongoing related federal investigation and Trump fought a subpoena for his records, which landed the case before the US Supreme Court.

How we got here: The years-long investigation into Trump

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office officially launched its investigation into the alleged hush-money schemes under the previous DA, Cy Vance, in August 2018, the same day Cohen pleaded guilty to charges related to the Daniels payments across the street in a Manhattan federal courtroom.

Under Vance, prosecutors shifted their investigation to focus on the Trump Organization’s finances and away from the repayment scheme.

Bragg, who took office in January 2022, has accused Trump of leaning on his political power to avoid criminal responsibility for years and campaigned on a promise to prosecute the former president.

A grand jury was eventually green-lit to hear the hush money case in December 2022, days before a jury in another state criminal trial convicted the Trump Organization on 17 counts related to tax fraud that slapped Trump’s company with $1.6 million in fines. The grand jury empaneled on January 23, 2023, ultimately returned the 34-count indictment in this case on March 30.

If convicted on the 34 identical counts of falsifying business records, which are a class E felony, Trump could face up to 4 years in prison. But as a first-time offender, he would unlikely be sentenced to prison time. It would make him a convicted felon regardless of his sentence.

As the conviction would be on state charges, Trump would not be able to pardon himself if reelected president.

Trump’s first trial will begin next month as the primaries continue

Merchan set the initial March 25 trial date last year, but he said they could “make any necessary” changes if there are any “actual conflicts” – a nod to the federal cases brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

Indeed, district Judge Tanya Chutkan initially set a March 4 trial date for Trump’s federal election subversion trial in Washington, DC, which would have likely pushed back the New York trial. Now that trial is on hold while Trump’s immunity claims play out.

Complicating the schedule further is the uncertainty of time for Trump’s appeal: The Supreme Court could decline to hear the case, putting the trial back in Chutkan’s hands to begin relatively quickly. But if the high court does take up Trump’s appeal, that trial is likely on hold for weeks, if not months, while the presidential immunity issue is decided.

The New York case in many ways fell into the background last year following Trump’s arraignment last spring. Smith brought charges against Trump for his alleged mishandling of classified documents last June and again for alleged election subversion in August, and then Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis charged Trump later that month in a sprawling racketeering case involving Trump and 18 co-defendants.

But now the New York trial is primed to be the first where a jury will decide Trump’s guilt or innocence.

Now that the March 25 date remains in effect, it will take place as Trump is collecting delegates in presidential primaries for the Republican nomination and preparing for a potential general election rematch against President Joe Biden.

It’s not clear yet whether Trump would be required to attend every day of the trial or if he can ask not to appear.

His attendance for Thursday’s hearing was waived but he chose to attend, rather than going to Georgia to watch a hearing seeking to disqualify Willis from his Georgia case.

Trump is only an observer at this hearing

Trump on Thursday is sitting in his fourth different courtroom this year, including three for separate cases in New York.

He attended closing arguments last month in his New York civil fraud trial before Judge Arthur Engoron – in which the judge is expected to rule on Friday – as well as testified and attended multiple days at the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, where a jury found Trump liable for $83.3 million in damages.

Trump also sat in for oral arguments at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on his immunity claims in January, though he did not speak or have a role in that hearing.

In both prior New York cases, Trump found ways to make his presence felt in the courtroom, both on the witness stand and from the defendant’s table.

In the defamation case, district Judge Lewis Kaplan restricted what Trump could testify to before the jury, and at one point he warned Trump that he could be removed from the courtroom if he kept up his audible commentary during Carroll’s testimony.

And in the New York civil trial, Trump’s time on the witness stand in November was a spectacle, where the former president used the opportunity to bash the trial and the charges brought by the New York attorney general. During closing arguments last month, Engoron told Trump’s lawyer he could not speak as part of the defense case – but Trump found a way to deliver a five-minute monologue, anyway.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his appearance, Trump — who has similarly used other court proceedings to generate publicity for his campaign — said the case against him is politically motivated and amounts to “election interference.”

“This is just a way of hurting me in the election because I’m leading by a lot,” Trump said.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content