Donald Trump wanted trial delays, and he’s getting them. Hush-money case is latest to be put off

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures at a campaign rally Saturday, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

NEW YORK (AP) — Delays in Donald Trump’s criminal cases are increasing the possibility Americans will be deep into the presidential election season before they know whether or not he has been convicted of any wrongdoing.

The former president’s Washington, D.C., election interference case is on hold until the Supreme Court decides his immunity claims. His Florida classified documents trial is also likely to be put off. And his Georgia election subversion trial hasn’t been scheduled.

Now, his New York hush-money criminal trial — once thought to be the most punctual of the four — is in scheduling limbo, pushed off at least until mid-April. The issue: last-minute evidence dumps from a 2018 federal investigation into the same issues.

After Trump’s lawyers complained, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said it would be open to a 30-day delay to ensure his defense team has ample time to review the material. Trump’s lawyers wanted a 90-day delay and have also asked that the case thrown out.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan scheduled a hearing for March 25 — the day jury selection was supposed to begin — to sort out the late-breaking issues. Here’s a look at what’s behind the disruption.

WHAT IS THE HUSH-MONEY CASE ABOUT?

The case involves an alleged scheme to prevent potentially damaging stories about his personal life from becoming public during Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg charged Trump nearly a year ago with falsifying internal records kept by his company to hide the nature of payments made to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000. She said she had an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump. He denies it.

Trump’s company then reimbursed Cohen at an amount far more than what he’d spent and logged the payments as legal expenses, prosecutors said. Over several months, Cohen said he got $420,000.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

WHY DID TRUMP’S LAWYERS WANT A DELAY?

Trump’s lawyers say they’re being inundated with late-arriving evidence — more than 100,000 pages of records from a separate federal probe into Cohen that concluded years ago. Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign violations and other unrelated crimes and served about a year in prison.

Trump’s lawyers say they need time to review the material turned over by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which includes bank records, witness statements and other evidence.

Trump’s lawyers blame Manhattan prosecutors for not pressing their federal counterparts to hand over the evidence sooner. The U.S. attorney’s office ultimately started producing documents on March 4 after Trump’s lawyers subpoenaed them in January.

A final batch with about 15,000 pages was expected to be turned over Friday, bringing the total to about 119,000 pages.

Trump’s lawyers say some of the records are “exculpatory and favorable to the defense.” Prosecutors contend most of the material is “largely irrelevant.”

Exchanging evidence before a trial is routine.

WHY DIDN’T THEY GET THESE RECORDS SOONER?

Trump’s lawyers allege the Manhattan D.A.’s office was trying to hide evidence as part of a “desperate effort” to gain an advantage at trial.

“The People should have collected all of these documents long ago,” Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles wrote in court papers. “Instead, they collected some materials but left others with the federal authorities, in the hope that President Trump would never get them.”

Bragg’s office argued that Trump’s lawyers caused the time crunch by waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the U.S. attorney’s office for all the records it wanted.

In a court filing made public Thursday, the D.A.’s office said it requested the full file last year, but the U.S. attorney’s office only turned over a subset of records. Trump’s lawyers received that material last June and had ample time to seek additional evidence from the federal probe, the D.A.’s office said.

On Friday, the D.A.’s office clarified that it had not requested the full case file from the U.S. attorney’s office because much of what was in it wasn’t relevant.

The U.S. attorney’s office declined comment.

WHAT WAS THE FEDERAL INVESTIGATION ABOUT?

Federal prosecutors investigated Cohen over a variety of concerns, including tax issues related to a taxi business he operated, and questions about whether he was attempting to profit illegally from his connections to Trump.

The case eventually narrowed, however, and in 2018 Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations related to the payment to Daniels, making false statements on a bank loan application and evading taxes. A few months later, he pleaded guilty for lying to Congress.

In their case against Cohen, federal prosecutors said the hush-money payment was made to benefit Trump and occurred with his knowledge, but they stopped short of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice and guidance to federal agencies, has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Federal prosecutors didn’t revive their investigation once Trump left the White House.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT IN THE NEW YORK CASE?

Merchan is holding a hearing March 25 to determine whether anyone deserves to be penalized for the delays in documents being turned over to Trump’s legal team. Trump’s lawyers have asked for the case to be thrown out.

Trump’s lawyers have also asked the judge to delay the trial until the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s presidential immunity claims. His lawyers say a ruling in Trump’s favor could negate some evidence in the hush-money case, such as social media posts he made while president in 2018.

The Manhattan D.A.’s office says Trump’s immunity claims have little bearing on his hush-money case and don’t warrant a delay.

WHAT ABOUT TRUMP’S OTHER CASES?

“We want delays,” Trump proclaimed as he headed into a Feb. 15 hearing in the hush-money case. So far, he’s getting his way.

Neither of Trump’s two federal prosecutions — in Florida and Washington, D.C. — are guaranteed for trial this year, in part because of his efforts to stall the proceedings. His Georgia election interference trial hasn’t been scheduled. That case was rocked Friday by a judge’s ruling prompting special prosecutor Nathan Wade to step aside.

Trump’s trial in Florida, where he’s charged with illegally retaining classified documents, had been set for May 20. But it’s been clear for months that date would not hold as the judge has weighed multiple challenges to the indictment and various evidentiary disputes.

U.S. District Judge Alieen Cannon has given no hint of when she intends to set a trial date.

“We very much believe that a trial that takes place before the election is a mistake and should not happen,” Blanche told Cannon. “The easy solution is to start this trial after the election.”

Trump’s Washington, D.C., case, involving allegations he plotted to overturn the 2020 election, had been seen as the most likely one to reach trial first — but that’s no longer the case.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan had scheduled the trial for March 4, but that was upended by a Trump appeal contending that he was immune from prosecution for official acts taken in the White House.

The judge put the case on hold as the appeal made its way through the courts. That decision created significant uncertainty about whether there’ll be enough time for a trial before the election — assuming the high court permits the prosecution.

HOW DOES TRUMP BENEFIT FROM DELAYS?

The longer Trump’s trials are put off, the more he’ll argue that it’s impractical and unfair to stick him in a courtroom instead of leaving him to campaign. But there are practical benefits as well.

If Trump becomes president, he could direct the Justice Department to drop the federal cases or attempt to pardon himself. But he would not be able to pardon himself in the hush-money or Georgia cases because they involve state charges. Presidential pardons only apply to federal crimes.

In the meantime, if there’s a rush to try Trump before Election Day — now eight months away — the judge in the hush-money case said he can rest assured that he won’t be forced to decide between attending overlapping trials.

“He’s not going to be in more than one criminal trial at the same time,” Merchan said.

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Tucker reported from Fort Pierce, Florida.

AP Politics

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