Trump Trial Delays Cast Doubt on Verdicts Before Election

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(Bloomberg) -- A likely delay in Donald Trump’s hush money trial is the latest complication of prosecutors’ efforts to try his other criminal cases before Nov. 5, raising the prospect that he could be elected president — and perhaps take office — before being tried on the most serious charges against him.

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The March 25 New York state trial — over whether Trump falsified business records for a hush money payment to a porn star before the 2016 election — may be delayed by as few as 30 days. But it would still be part of a trend in favor of the Republican frontrunner for the November contest.

If Trump takes office with federal prosecutions still outstanding, he could direct his Justice Department to drop those cases. Delays in any of his criminal cases only increase the possibility of such an outcome.

Prosecutors scored one win on Friday morning when an obstacle to the Georgia election interference case against Trump was removed. A judge in Atlanta ruled that District Attorney Fani Willis can stay on the case as long as the prosecutor with whom she had a romance steps down — which he did, hours later. Still, the case hasn’t yet been set for trial, and procedural steps remain before it gets back on track.

Read More: Trump Georgia Prosecutor Willis Can Stay On If Wade Goes

Meanwhile, a federal trial over Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election that was supposed to start earlier this month was put on hold to give the US Supreme Court time to weigh his claim to that former presidents are immune to criminal charges. A trial over his handling of classified documents is unlikely to start in May as planned, due to other delays, a judge said at a recent hearing without rescheduling it.

Squeezing the Calendar

In the hush money case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the first prosecutor to charge Trump with a crime, said in a court filing Thursday that he would be open to a 30-day delay because his office had just received some 31,000 pages of records from the US Attorney’s Office tied to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is expected to be the government’s star witness at trial. Those records relate to a parallel federal case against Cohen, whose dealings with Trump are at the center of the hush money prosecution.

Trump asked for a 90-day delay, citing 73,000 pages of new records from the Cohen case produced by federal prosecutors since March 4, a late production of evidence that the defense claims was intentional. Trump lawyer Todd Blanche also asked the judge to dismiss the indictment altogether, citing alleged violations in turning over the evidence.

Any such delay could hem in the broader trial schedule, said former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. She said a 30-day pause probably wouldn’t greatly hinder the federal prosecutions, given earlier delays, but it would leave less room for other holdups and narrow the calendar.

“I think Team Trump’s view is that any delay is a good delay, and this was completely unexpected to all observers,” Rodgers said. “All of this is squeezing the trials into a smaller and smaller period.”

‘We Want Delays’

New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan hasn’t yet ruled on the requests. He is separately weighing Trump’s request to put the trial on hold until after the Supreme Court decides on his immunity argument. That ruling could come at any time.

Bragg on Friday urged Merchan to disregard the immunity claim, saying it doesn’t apply because Trump’s actions in paying off the porn star didn’t constitute “official acts.” Bragg cited a Manhattan federal judge’s recent ruling that presidential immunity didn’t protect Trump from being held liable for personal attacks he made on Twitter about writer E. Jean Carroll.

Blanche has asked Merchan to hold a hearing next week over whether federal prosecutors improperly “declined” or withheld evidence from their investigation of Cohen. He said Bragg’s office should have turned over material sooner and argued it tried to obstruct Trump’s access to information to hinder his defense.

“There are disputed issues of fact regarding the People’s obligation to obtain and produce these materials much earlier,” said Blanche, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan.

Read More: Trump Hush-Money Trial Faces Delay Over Evidence Dispute

Blanche also said a 30-day delay would result in a start date conflicting with Passover, and that observant Jews could be left out of the jury pool, arguing for a longer delay. He added that the dispute over new evidence shouldn’t distract the judge from simply tossing the whole case out.

Merchan had scheduled the trial for March 25 at a hearing last month, where Trump argued for a much later start date. Lawyers for the former president cited their need to juggle his defenses in the other cases, but Merchan rejected those arguments and said the case must proceed.

“We want delays, obviously, I’m running for election,” Trump said to reporters before the hearing. “How can you run for election and be sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?”

--With assistance from Patricia Hurtado.

(Adds Manhattan DA’s argument on Trump immunity claim in 11th paragraph.)

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