Trump’s First Criminal Trial Set to Start April 15 in NY

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(Bloomberg) -- A New York judge ruled Donald Trump’s first criminal trial will start April 15 in Manhattan, getting the case back on track after a short delay that was caused when thousands of pages of new evidence emerged.

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Judge Juan Merchan made the announcement during a hearing Monday as the former president looked on. The decision virtually guarantees the trial over Trump’s hush money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election will go to a jury long before voters go to the polls for the November election.

The trial was initially set to start today, but Merchan imposed a 30-day delay on March 15 at the request of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. The delay came after new documents were handed over by federal prosecutors related to a separate investigation into Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged the hush-money payment and is expected to be a key government witness at the trial.

The presumptive Republican nominee for the November presidential election left the courtroom shortly after the trial date was set, giving a thumbs up to spectators in the front row. Outside court, he told reporters he plans to appeal the judge’s decision to set the trial for next month. Trump had sought a longer delay, arguing that the last-minute trove of evidence undermined his defense.

“This case should have been brought three and a half years ago, they decided to wait now just during the election, so that I won’t be able to campaign,” Trump said. “I will be appealing.”

The judge also rejected Trump’s request to throw the case out as a result of the new evidence. The former president had argued that prosecutors engaged in widespread misconduct by failing to hand over the documents sooner.

The former president on Monday scored a significant victory in an unrelated civil fraud case after a New York appeals court slashed the size of the bond he must post to put a $454 million verdict on hold while he appeals. The decision lowering the bond to $175 million spares Trump from the risk of having his assets seized by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought that suit.

The case will be the first to go to trial, and is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces as he campaigns to return to the White House amid a torrent of legal challenges. It’s not clear yet when the other criminal trials will start. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has denied wrongdoing in all the cases and assailed Bragg’s prosecution as a “witch hunt.”

Bragg indicted Trump almost a year ago, alleging the real estate mogul falsified dozens of business records to disguise a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an alleged affair a decade earlier. It was part of an alleged scheme to suppress salacious and potentially damaging allegations by Daniels and others from being published that threatened to hurt his 2016 campaign for president.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance and tax charges tied to the hush-money payments. At the time, prosecutors said Cohen paid a porn star $130,000 to buy her silence about a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier. The US said the payment was made with Trump’s knowledge but didn’t charge him because the Justice Department maintained a sitting president could not be indicted.

Bragg’s state indictment unsealed last April alleged Trump falsified his company’s business records by claiming he reimbursed Cohen for legal work to conceal the true nature of the hush-money payments.

(Updates with detail from the hearing.)

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