Trump hush money trial delayed until at least April, judge rules

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Donald Trump’s criminal trial stemming from hush money paid to a porn star before the 2016 U.S. election will start no earlier than April after the judge on Friday granted a 30-day delay due to the late disclosure of evidence to the former president.

Justice Juan Merchan’s decision to delay the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president marks another victory for Trump, who has sought to slow down proceedings in his various legal entanglements as he prepares to challenge President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

The case in New York state court in Manhattan, which had been due to start on March 25, was the first of four criminal indictments brought against Trump last year. While none of the other three cases have firm trial dates, the delay to the New York trial could complicate scheduling the others.

In a written ruling, Merchan did not announce a firm new trial date in the case brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office. Instead, the judge will hold a hearing on March 25 after which he will potentially set a trial date even further into the future.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the New York case to 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence about a sexual encounter she has said they had a decade earlier. Trump has denied having had any such encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The delay came after the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, who had previously investigated Cohen’s payment to Daniels, this month disclosed more than 100,000 pages of documents related to Cohen in response to a subpoena from Trump’s defense team.

Trump’s lawyers said they needed a 90-day delay to the trial to review the material. Bragg had consented to a 30-day delay.

Bragg’s office said on Friday many of the documents turned over by federal prosecutors were not relevant, and thus were not part of a request it made to the U.S. Attorney’s office last year.

But Trump’s lawyers accused Bragg of seeking to prevent them from obtaining potentially damaging information about Cohen, who is expected to be a key prosecution witness at the trial.

Merchan asked lawyers for both sides to provide him with a “detailed timeline” of their efforts to get documents from federal prosecutors.

“The requested documents are necessary for the court to properly assess who, if anyone, is at fault for the late production of the documents,” Merchan wrote.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that Cohen paid off Daniels to spare Trump’s family embarrassment, not to protect his electoral prospects as state prosecutors have alleged.

They said some of the material included in the late disclosure showed Trump did not commit crimes.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges of violating campaign finance law through the payment to Daniels.

Trump also faces three other federal and state criminal indictments, including two stemming from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden, as well as one tied to his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Trump’s legal issues thus far have not harmed his bid to regain the presidency. He clinched the Republican nomination this week.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York, editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)