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  4. US judge orders 30-day delay in Trump's hush money trial citing late disclosure of evidence

US judge orders 30-day delay in Trump's hush money trial citing late disclosure of evidence

The delay marks another victory for Trump, who seeks to slow proceedings in his legal entanglements ahead of a presidential rematch with Joe Biden. The former US President has pleaded not guilty to paying hush money to porn actor Stormy Daniels over an extramarital affair.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New York Published on: March 16, 2024 13:53 IST
Donald Trump, hush money case, trial delayed, US elections
Image Source : REUTERS Republican presidential candidate and former US President Donald Trump

New York: Former US President Donald Trump's criminal trial on paying hush money to an adult film star before the 2016 presidential elections has been delayed by a month after New York justice Juan Merchan cited late disclosure of evidence to the Republican frontrunner for the upcoming election. This marks another victory for Trump, who sought to slow down proceedings in his legal cases ahead of his rematch with President Joe Biden.

In a written ruling, Merchan did not announce a firm new trial date in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office. The judge will instead hold a hearing on the stipulated March 25 date after which he may set a trial date even further into the future. "The requested documents are necessary for the court to properly assess who, if anyone, is at fault for the late production of the documents," Merchan wrote.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the New York case to 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his former lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels for her silence about a sexual encounter she has said they had a decade earlier. Trump has denied having had any such encounter with Daniels. 

The case in New York state court in Manhattan, which had been due to start on March 25, was the first of four criminal indictments brought against Trump last year. This could complicate the scheduling for other three criminal trials against Trump, whose dates are yet to be announced.

Why was the case delayed?

The delay came after the US Attorney's office in Manhattan, which had previously investigated Cohen's payment to Daniels, this month disclosed more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Cohen in response to a subpoena from Trump's defense team. Trump's lawyers said they needed a 90-day delay to the trial to review the material. Bragg had consented to a 30-day delay.

Bragg's office said on Friday many of the documents turned over by federal prosecutors were not relevant, and thus were not part of a request it made to the US Attorney's office last year. However, Trump's lawyers accused Bragg of seeking to prevent them from obtaining potentially damaging information about Cohen, who is expected to be a key prosecution witness at the trial.

Trump's lawyers have argued that Cohen paid off Daniels to spare Trump's family embarrassment, not to protect his electoral prospects as state prosecutors have alleged. They said some of the material included in the late disclosure showed Trump did not commit crimes. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges of violating campaign finance law through the payment to Daniels.

The former US president also faces three other federal and state criminal indictments, including two stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, as well as one tied to his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Georgia interference case

In the case pertaining to Trump's alleged role in attempting to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ruled that Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis must step aside from the case or remove the special prosecutor with whom she had a romantic relationship.

McAfee did not find that Willis' relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade amounted to a conflict of interest that should disqualify her from the case. However, he condemned what he described as a “tremendous” lapse in judgment and the “unprofessional manner of the District Attorney's testimony."

Willis hired Wade to lead the team to investigate and ultimately prosecute Trump and 18 others accused of participating in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally try to overturn Trump's narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden in Georgia in 2020. Willis and Wade testified at a hearing last month that they had engaged in a romantic relationship, but they rejected the idea that Willis improperly benefited from it, as lawyers for Trump and some of his co-defendants alleged.

Trump's attorney, Ashleigh Merchant, alleged that Willis paid Wade large sums for his work and then improperly benefited from the prosecution of the case when Wade used his earnings to pay for vacations for the two of them.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Biden, Trump heading towards America's first presidential rematch in 70 years. What are the stakes?

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