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Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen can testify in Trump’s hush money trial, judge rules

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal trial stemming from hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels has rejected the former president’s attempts to block her testimony.

On Monday, New York Judge Juan Merchan also rejected Mr Trump’s attempts to block testimony from Michael Cohen, his former attorney who allegedly supported a scheme to bury compromising details of Mr Trump’s affairs leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Judge Merchan also rejected Mr Trump’s attempts to block testimony from former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who allegedly had an affair with Mr Trump before his presidency.

The case from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office could rely on Cohen’s critical testimony that Mr Trump authorised his business to falsely file payments to Ms Daniels as legal expenses, part of an alleged effort to quash stories that could interfere with then-candidate Trump’s campaign, according to prosecutors. Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records and has pleaded not guilty.

Jury selection was initially set to begin on 25 March, but Judge Merchan agreed to delay the proceedings 30 days after prosecutors said they had received a flood of documents to review less than two weeks before trial was scheduled to start.

Last week, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the United States Attorney’s Office produced more than 30,000 pages of records and was expecting thousands more. Those records are likely related to the federal investigation into Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance charges stemming from the alleged scheme.

Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Mr Trump’s business dealings with Russia, failing to report income, and for making payments to women who alleged affairs with Mr Trump.

Donald Trump appears inside Manhattan criminal court for a pretrial hearing in his hush money case on 15 February (AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump appears inside Manhattan criminal court for a pretrial hearing in his hush money case on 15 February (AFP via Getty Images)

In court filings, Mr Trump’s attorneys sought to prevent prosecutors from arguing that the scheme sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, as well as making any mention of “catch and kill,” in which potentially embarassing stories were purchased through the National Enquirer, which then intentionally suppressed their publication.

Judge Merchan rejected those arguments from Mr Trump’s legal team in a lengthy set of rulings responding to several defence motions on Monday.

Crucially, the judge will not allow jurors to watch or listen to the so-called Access Hollywood tape from 2005 that resurfaced one month before the 2016 election. But the judge suggested that prosecutors can discuss the tape and its contents to allege motive for burying hush money payments, without having to actually present the tape as evidence.

On 25 March, prosecutors and defence attorneys will return to the judge’s courtroom for yet another pretrial hearing.

This time, Judge Merchan is directing lawyers to provide him with a “detailed timeline of the events surrounding the requests for ultimate production of documents” after prosecutors accused Mr Trump’s legal team of failing to timely request federal documents that could be relevant to the case.

That timeline should include any subpoenas, emails and others messages so that the judge can “properly asses who, if anyone, is at fault for the late production of the documents, what prejudice, if any, was suffered by either party and what sanction(s) if any, are appropriate.”