Trump legal team asks for judge in hush-money case to be removed

Donald Trump’s lawyers plan to request the judge presiding over a criminal trial into alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels be removed due to his campaign donations and family’s ties to the Democrat Party, according to a report.

It’s the latest in a series of legal manoeuvres by the former president to move the Manhattan criminal trial slated to begin next March away from New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 34 counts of falsifying business records related to alleged payments to conceal negative stories about him prior to the 2016 presidential election.

Mr Trump attorneys Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche noted in a statement to the New York Times that Justice Merchan’s daughter was the chief operating officer of Democratic consulting firm Authentic Campaigns.

They also claimed that the judge had donated $15 to Joe Biden’s Act Blue online fundraising platform during the 2020 presidential campaign, and $10 to two other pro-Democrat groups.

The lawyers also took issue with Justice Merchan’s oversight of a tax fraud trial which saw the Trump Organization found guilty and fined $1.6m in January.

They claimed that Justice Merchan had encouraged former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to turn against his longtime boss.

“President Trump, like all Americans, is entitled under the Constitution to an impartial judge and legal process,” lawyers Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche, said in a statement to the Times.

Former President Donald Trump was indicted in April on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments (Associated Press)
Former President Donald Trump was indicted in April on 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments (Associated Press)

The attorneys have not yet filed a formal motion for recusal. Mr Blanche did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Independent.

Mr Trump’s lawyers recently filed to have the criminal case shifted to federal court, which Manhattan District Attorney Melvin Bragg has opposed.

Under New York laws, judges must recuse themselves if they or a relative has “an interest that would be substantially affected by the proceeding”.

In April, Mr Trump became the first sitting or former president in US history to be criminally indicted.

He is alleged to have directed his fixer Michael Cohen to pay Ms Daniels to suppress a planned story about an affair in 2006.

Ms Daniels claimed she and Mr Trump had sex, and that she later accepted $130,000 in the days before the 2016 election.

Mr Cohen also allegedly had the National Review pay for a story about an affair Mr Trump had with former Playboy model Karen McDougal, only to never publish her account.

In 2018, Mr Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations for his role in the hush money payments and was sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Mr Trump’s trial is due to begin during the 2024 presidential campaign.