Trump Judge Refuses to Delay Hush-Money Case Over Immunity

(Bloomberg) -- A New York judge denied Donald Trump’s request to delay his upcoming hush money trial until after the US Supreme Court rules on the former president’s immunity defense in an unrelated federal case over the 2020 election.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The ruling Wednesday by Judge Juan Merchan clears the way for the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to go before a jury as planned on April 15. Trump made the request early last month, which Merchan said was far too late.

“This Court finds that Defendant had myriad opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024,” almost a year after the former president was indicted, the judge wrote.

Merchan’s ruling is the latest setback in the case for Trump, who was hit last week with a gag order barring him from publicly discussing jurors or prosecutors during the trial in order to protect their safety. The judge expanded the gag order on Monday to include his own family members after Trump attacked the Merchan’s daughter online over the weekend.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has accused the real estate mogul of falsifying dozens of business records to disguise a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to keep voters from hearing her claim about an extramarital affair a decade earlier. Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 15.

Prosecutors allege Trump engaged in a “pressure campaign” in 2018 to ensure that his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen didn’t cooperate with a federal investigation of hush-money payments. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance law, is expected to be a key witness against his former boss.

‘Presidential Acts’

Trump, who is campaigning to return to the White House in this year’s election, on March 7 asked Merchan to adjourn the trial until the Supreme Court ruled on his immunity argument in a separate federal criminal case in Washington over his alleged attempt to interfere with the 2020 election. Justices hear arguments in that case on April 25, but may not rule until June. The former president also asked Merchan to bar evidence of comments he made while president, arguing they were made in his official capacity.

Bragg had argued that Trump’s claim of presidential immunity should be rejected because the former president failed to provide any legal authority to support his claim that the state crimes he’s accused of are “presidential acts.” Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

In his ruling, Merchan said Trump had “ample notice” to make his immunity request yet waited until March 7, just weeks before the trial originally scheduled to begin March 25. Trump’s lawyers asked for the New York trial to be delayed until the Supreme Court rules in the separate federal election-fraud case in Washington.

Trump “fails to explain why the defendant waited so long” to raise the argument, the judge said. Bragg’s indictment was unsealed April 4, 2023.

Trump also raised the presidential immunity argument too late in the defamation suit brought against him in 2019 by writer E. Jean Carroll. The judge in that case allowed Carroll’s claim to go to trial after Trump belatedly argued he was immune because his comments related to statements he made from the White House.

(Updates with judge’s ruling on Trump’s statements in sixth paragraph.)

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.