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Trump team says it’ll argue lawyers’ involvement in alleged hush money scheme shows Trump had no intent to commit crimes

By Lauren del Valle, CNN

(CNN) — Donald Trump’s defense team says it will emphasize his past lawyers’ involvement in payments at the center of an alleged hush money scheme when his New York criminal case related to the matter goes to trial later this month.

The former president’s legal team filed a notice with the court Monday declaring that they will not use a formal “advice of counsel” defense in Trump’s upcoming trial, where he’ll face 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with the hush money payments to an adult film star facilitated by Trump’s onetime personal attorney Michael Cohen and others. They will, however, suggest that Trump’s use of lawyers to facilitate the transactions at issue shows he had no intent to commit any crimes, the filing says.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the case.

State Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan had ordered Trump’s attorneys to give notice by Monday if they were going to present the legal theory at trial to give prosecutors enough time to prepare and potentially compel Trump to turn over more records.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 25 in what is set to be the first criminal indictment against Trump to go to trial. Merchan has not yet ruled on Trump’s recent motion to delay the trial until the US Supreme Court weighs in on his presidential immunity claim.

When the hush money case goes to trial, Trump’s attorneys wrote that they’ll challenge whether prosecutors can prove Trump personally had an “unlawful intent” while questioning anticipated trial witnesses, such as Cohen and former executives at American Media Inc., the parent company of the Enquirer. They expect such witnesses to testify about Trump’s awareness of his then-lawyers’ involvement in the charged conduct, according to the filing.

By not using a formal “advice of counsel” defense, Trump’s lawyers say they will not have to show the jury that he confided in his attorneys, sought advice from them about the legality of the conduct linked to the indictment or relied on any related advice in good faith, the filing states.

Trump’s legal team, in its attempt to skirt the requirements of declaring this type of defense, also says it doesn’t have to turn over any more communications records between Trump and his lawyers related to the alleged conduct. They also don’t have to reveal any more of Trump’s defense strategy, his lawyers argue in the filing.

It is unclear whether Merchan will permit the defense strategy, and the filing notes that upcoming rulings from the judge on outstanding pretrial motions may change Trump’s defense theory. The judge is expected to issue an order on those motions this week.

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