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New York judge denies Trump’s immunity claim in hush money case

A Manhattan judge denied Donald Trump’s efforts to have his criminal trial delayed on presidential immunity grounds, saying the former president’s filing was “untimely.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Juan Merchan submitted a six-page filing denying Mr Trump’s last-ditch effort to delay the trial concerning alleged hush-money payments even further after Mr Trump’s team successfully delayed the trial 30 days.

Mr Trump submitted the motion on 7 March, asking Judge Merchan to delay the trial until after the US Supreme Court decides whether the presidential immunity defence applies to criminal charges against sitting or former presidents.

The former president’s legal team argued that under presidential immunity, evidence related to correspondence Mr Trump made while president should be prohibited.

The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in that case on 25 April but will likely not issue a decision for days or weeks after arguments. Judge Merchan had already set the criminal trial date for 15 April.

Judge Merchan said the former president had a “myriad” of opportunities to file his motion on presidential immunity but chose not to, claiming it was “strategically” done.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Mich., Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP)
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Grand Rapids, Mich., Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP)

Mr Trump has invoked the presidential immunity defence in his upcoming criminal trials as a delay or dismissal tactic. Largely, the former president argues he should have absolute immunity from criminal prosecutions because his actions were done within his scope of official duties.

However, in the New York criminal trial, Mr Trump’s attorney argued that presidential immunity applied to evidence, rather than the prosecution as a whole.

They claimed statements Mr Trump made on social media and to news networks about his former lawyer (who is a witness in the trial) Michael Cohen, were done as “official communications” under his official duties.

But Judge Merchan, who has already delayed the trial, said their argument didn’t matter because it was filed too late.

The judge added that the court would not consider “whether the doctrine of presidential immunity precludes the introduction of evidence of purported official presidential acts in a criminal proceeding,”

Last month, Judge Merchan delayed the trial by 30 days after a mishap over potential evidence. Mr Trump’s lawyers complained that the district attorney’s office was late in returning thousands of pages of documents related to Cohen. District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office disputed the allegations, saying Mr Trump’s legal team failed to request the documents promptly.

After a contentious hearing, Judge Merchan ultimately delayed the trial but rejected the accusations from Mr Trump’s legal team.

Judge Juan Merchan could become the first judge ever to oversee a former U.S. president’s criminal trial (AP)
Judge Juan Merchan could become the first judge ever to oversee a former U.S. president’s criminal trial (AP)

The former president will face Judge Merchan and prosecutors this month in the first criminal trial against a sitting or former president.

In this case, Mr Trump is being accused of falsifying 34 business records to cover up hush-money payments made to an adult film actress, Stormy Daniels, to suppress a negative story about an alleged sexual affair between the former president Ms Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Trump denies the affair and allegations.