Judge in Trump’s NY criminal case to rule on bid to toss charges

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 5:06 AM

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York judge is set to rule on Donald Trump’s bid to dismiss the first of four indictments he faces on Thursday, a decision that will determine whether the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president can proceed next month.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has asked Justice Juan Merchan to toss a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records to cover up a hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

Trump, 77, is expected to attend the 9:30 a.m. EST (1430 GMT) hearing in New York state court in Manhattan. Trump has used his frequent court dates to raise money for his campaign, though the strategy is seeing diminishing returns after he raked in millions around his first appearances last year.

Trump on April 5, 2023, pleaded not guilty to the charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat. Trump has said the charges should be dismissed, arguing the case was brought for partisan purposes and state laws do not apply to federal elections.

Should Merchan deny Trump’s motions to dismiss, he will determine whether the trial proceeds as scheduled on March 25. That would make it the first of the four federal and state indictments Trump faces to go to trial.

Trump’s political and legal calendars are increasingly overlapping ahead of his expected Nov. 5 rematch with Democratic President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump in 2020.

In a separate court hearing on Thursday, Trump’s lawyers will ask a Georgia judge to disqualify the prosecutor who charged him and several allies with trying to overturn his election loss there in 2020. He says the prosecutor, Fani Willis, had an improper relationship with a lawyer on her team.

Trump also faces federal charges in Washington, D.C., over his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and in Florida over his handling of government documents. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The Manhattan case centers on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Daniels – whose real name is Stephanie Clifford – to prevent her from publicly claiming ahead of the 2016 election that she had a sexual encounter with Trump a decade earlier while he was married. Trump denies the affair.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors in Bragg’s office said Trump’s New York-based family real estate company recorded Trump’s 2017 reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses, violating a state law against falsifying business records to conceal another crime.

In this case, prosecutors say Trump was seeking to cover up federal campaign finance law violations as well as violations of a state law against promoting a candidacy by unlawful means.

In seeking dismissal, Trump’s lawyers wrote that he had been targeted for “selective prosecution.” Bragg’s office said anyone else who behaved similarly would have been prosecuted, pointing to Cohen’s guilty plea.

Trump’s lawyers also argued state prosecutors cannot use Trump’s alleged concealment of federal election law violations to justify the false records charges, and that the state law does not apply to federal elections.

Bragg’s office has said the business records falsification law was not restricted to cases involving state-level crimes, and that the state law applies to both federal and state elections.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Andrew Goudsward in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Josie Kao)