Trump demands a new judge just days before his hush money trial begins

(Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Trump demands a new judge just days before his hush money trial begins

Michael R. Sisak

April 6, 2024

Former President Trump is demanding a new judge just days before his hush-money criminal trial is set to begin, repeating long-standing grievances with the current judge in a long-running, eleventh-hour effort to disrupt and delay the case.

Trump’s lawyers, repeating his recent complaints on social media, urged Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan to throw out the case, citing bias and conflict of interest because his daughter is a Democratic political consultant. The judge denied a similar request last August.

In court documents made public Friday, Trump’s lawyers say it is improper for Merchan “to preside over these proceedings while Ms. Merchan benefits financially and reputationally from the way this case disrupts Trump’s campaign as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.”

The trial will begin on April 15. It is the first of four Trump criminal cases to go to trial and would be the first-ever criminal trial against a former president.

Merchan did not rule immediately. The decision is entirely up to him. If he were to leave, the trial schedule would be thrown into disarray, giving Trump a long-sought reprieve while a new judge takes office.

Messages seeking comment were left for a court spokesperson and Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan. The Manhattan district attorney’s office said it sees no reason for Merchan to step aside.

The defense’s claims that Loren Merchan benefits from her father’s decisions require several watered-down factual leaps that undermine any direct connection between her company and this case, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo wrote in a letter to the judge.

This string of innuendos is a far cry from evidence that Judge Merchan has a direct, personal or financial interest in reaching a particular conclusion, Colangelo wrote.

Loren Merchan is president of Authentic Campaigns, which has collected at least $70 million in payments from Democratic candidates and charities since she helped found the company in 2018, records show.

The firm’s former clients include President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority PAC, a political committee with ties to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

In a separate development Friday, Merchan blocked Trump’s lawyers from forcing NBC to provide them with material related to the recent documentary about porn actor Stormy Daniels, a key prosecution witness. He ruled that the defense’s subpoena was the definition of a fishing expedition and did not meet the legal burden of requiring a news organization to provide access to its notes and documents.

On Wednesday, Merchan rejected the Republican nominees’ likely request to delay the trial until the Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he made in one of his other criminal cases. The judge has yet to rule on another request for a delay from the defense, claiming he will not get a fair trial because of damaging media reporting.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s records to conceal the nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 campaign. Cohen paid Daniels, among other things, $130,000 to to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying company records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal fees.

Trump foreshadowed renewed pressure from his lawyers to have Merchan leave the case with posts attacking the judge and his daughter on his Truth Social platform last week.

Trump suggested, without evidence, that Merchandise statements, including his decision to impose a gag order on Trump, were influenced by his daughters’ consulting interests. He falsely claimed that she posted a photo on social media showing him behind bars. Trump’s attacks on Loren Merchan prompted the judge to expand the gag order to ban him from making public statements about his family.

The judge must immediately recuse himself and right the wrong he committed last year by failing to do so, Trump wrote on March 27. If the biased and conflicted judge is allowed to remain in this sham case, this will be another sad example of our country. becoming a banana republic, and not the America we used to know and love.

Trump similarly urged the judge in his Washington DC election interference case to recuse himself, claiming her past comments about him called into question her ability to be fair. But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said there was no reason for her to step aside.

Merchan’s daughter played a prominent role in the defense’s calls for his denial last year. They also seized several small donations the judge made to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign. They totaled $35, including $15 for Biden.

Merchan denied that request, writing last August that a state court ethics committee had determined that Loren Merchan’s work did not affect his impartiality. The judge said he was confident in his ability to be fair and impartial and said Trump’s lawyers had failed to demonstrate that concrete or even realistic reasons exist for a denial to be appropriate, let alone required on these grounds.

Trump’s lawyers argue that the circumstances have now changed, with Trump locked in a rematch against President Biden, and Democrats, including clients of Loren Merchan’s firm, trying to profit from Trump’s legal troubles with fundraising emails around the developments in the hush money case.

It would be completely unacceptable to most New Yorkers if the judge presiding over these proceedings had an adult child working for WinRed or MAGA Inc. worked, the lawyers wrote, citing a Republican fundraising platform and a pro-Trump fundraising committee.

In seeking Merchan’s recusal, Trump’s lawyers have also criticized his decision to give an interview to the Associated Press last month, suggesting he may have violated rules of judicial conduct.

In the interview, Merchan told the AP that he and his staff were working hard to prepare for the historic first trial of a former president. He said: There is no agenda here. We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.

Sisak writes for the Associated Press. AP reporters Brian Slodysko and Alanna Durkin Richer in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.


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