Skip to main content

Judge declines to delay Trump's N.Y. hush money trial over complaints of pretrial publicity

Former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks before entering the courtroom at Manhattan criminal court, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer, File) Former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks before entering the courtroom at Manhattan criminal court, Feb. 15, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo / Mary Altaffer, File)
Share
NEW YORK -

The judge in Donald Trump's hush money criminal case on Friday turned down the former president's request to postpone his trial because of publicity about the case.

It's the latest in a string of delay denials that Trump has gotten from various courts this week as he fights to stave off the trial's start Monday with jury selection.

Among other things, Trump's lawyers had argued that the jury pool was deluged with what the defence saw as "exceptionally prejudicial" news coverage of the case. The defence maintained that was a reason to hold off the case indefinitely.

Judge Juan M. Merchan wrote that Trump "appears to take the position that his situation and this case are unique and that the pre-trial publicity will never subside. However, this view does not align with reality."

Pointing to Trump's two federal defamation trials and a state civil fraud trial in Manhattan within the past year, Merchan wrote that the ex-president himself "was personally responsible for generating much, if not most, of the surrounding publicity with his public statements" outside those courtrooms and on social media.

"The situation Defendant finds himself in now is not new to him and at least in part, of his own doing," the judge added. He said questioning of prospective jurors would address any concerns about their ability to be fair and impartial.

Messages seeking comment were left with Trump's lawyers. The Manhattan district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

Trump, meanwhile, said Friday that he planned to testify at the trial, calling the case a "scam."

"All I can do is tell the truth," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. "And the truth is, they have no case."

Asked about jury selection, Trump said the process is "largely luck."

"It depends who you get," Trump said.

"It's very unfair that I'm having a trial there," he said, reiterating complaints he has made about the judge.

In a court filing last month, Trump lawyer Todd Blanche had argued that "potential jurors in Manhattan have been exposed to huge amounts of biased and unfair media coverage relating to this case."

"Many of the potential jurors already wrongfully believe that President Trump is guilty," Blanche added, citing the defence's review of media articles and other research it conducted.

Blanche said the review found 1,223 articles published online about the case from mid-January to late February and that many of them "unfairly and improperly 'demonized"' Trump. However, a chart included in a defence submission included many mentions of terms relevant to the case, such as 207 references to "Manhattan Trial" and 142 to "Hush Money Payments."

Trump's lawyers also blamed key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels for driving negative coverage of Trump. They pointed to Cohen's withering criticism of Trump on his podcasts and social media feeds and to publicity surrounding the release of a documentary about Daniels, which premiered last month on the NBC streaming service Peacock.

Prosecutors contended that publicity wasn't likely to wane and that Trump's own comments generated a lot of it. Prosecutors also noted that there are more than one million people in Manhattan, arguing that jury questioning could surely locate 12, plus six alternates, who could be impartial.

Trump's hush money case is the first of his four criminal indictments slated to go to trial and would be the first criminal trial ever of a former president.

He is accused of doctoring his company's records to hide the real reason for payments to Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer who helped the candidate bury negative claims about him during his 2016 campaign. Cohen's activities included paying porn actor Daniels US$130,000 to suppress her story of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier, which Trump denies.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump's lawyers had lobbed other, sometimes similar, arguments for delays at an appeals court this week. One of those appeals sought to put the trial on hold until the appellate court could give full consideration to the defence's argument that it needs to be moved elsewhere, on the grounds that the jury pool has been polluted by news coverage of Trump's other recent cases.

Trump's lawyers also maintain that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee faces "real potential prejudice" in heavily Democratic Manhattan.

All this week's appeals were turned down by individual appellate judges, though the matters are headed to a panel of appeals judges for further consideration.

Along with their claims about pretrial publicity, Trump's lawyers took issue with the recent prosecution of former Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg for lying in the civil fraud case. They accused the Manhattan DA's office of deploying "unethical, strong-armed tactics against an innocent man in his late 70s" while turning "a blind eye" to perjury allegations against Cohen.

Merchan, whom Trump's lawyers accused of pressuring Weisselberg into a previous guilty plea, said the new claim "compels this Court -- again, to express its continuing and growing alarm over counsel's practice of making serious allegations and representations that have no apparent basis in fact -- or at least are unsupported by a legitimate basis of knowledge."

----

Associated Press reporters Jill Colvin in Palm Beach, Fla., contributed to this report.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Oilers rally to beat Stars, tie Western Conference Final

With the Edmonton Oilers down two goals late in the first period of Game 4, Rogers Place was quiet, fans seemingly bewildered at the early, quick scoring of the Dallas Stars and the slow start by the home team. Ryan McLeod's marker with six-and-a-half minutes in the opening frame left changed all that.

Local Spotlight