Prosecutors say Donald Trump's hush money trial should start April 15 without further delay
Posted: March 22, 2024 - 2:03am

NEW YORK (AP) — New York prosecutors on Thursday urged a judge to start Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial on April 15, saying the defense's calls for further delays or dismissal of the former president’s case because of a last-minute evidence dump were a “red herring.”

The vast majority of records that Trump's lawyers received in recent weeks — more than 100,000 pages from a prior federal investigation into the matter — were “entirely immaterial, duplicative or substantially duplicative” of evidence they'd already been given, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said.

One batch containing 31,000 documents had fewer than 270 that were relevant to Trump’s case and had not previously been given to his lawyers, prosecutors said. The U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan finished giving evidence to Trump’s lawyers on March 15.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in what prosecutors said was an effort to hide arrangements to bury damaging stories during his 2016 presidential campaign

His lawyers' “grab-bag of meritless discovery arguments is the latest of a long series of attempts to evade responsibility for the conduct charged in the indictment," Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo wrote.

In all, about 10 million pages of evidence have been turned over to Trump's lawyers since his indictment a year ago, including grand jury minutes, bank records, witness statements, cell phone data, and records from his company, the Trump Organization, Colangelo said.

Judge Juan M. Merchan last week postponed the trial until at least mid-April after Trump’s lawyers complained that their preparations were being hampered by the late arrival of evidence from the 2018 federal investigation that sent his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to prison.

Cohen, now an outspoken critic of Trump, is poised to testify against him as a star prosecution witness in the hush-money case. The D.A.’s office did not oppose Merchan’s 30-day delay but said it would fight the defense’s attempts to put the trial off any longer.

Trump's criminal trial had been scheduled to begin Monday. The hush-money case is among four criminal indictments against the presumptive Republican nominee as he campaigns to retake the White House.

Instead, on Monday, Merchan will hold a hearing to assess “who, if anyone, is at fault” for the late evidence, whether it hurt either side and whether any sanctions are warranted. Trump is expected to attend.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump aimed to hide the true nature of payments to Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier. Trump has denied her claims. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

Trump’s lawyers have said some of the recently arriving evidence appears to be “exculpatory and favorable to the defense." Prosecutors argue it mostly pertains to Cohen's unrelated federal convictions, though that material could come in handy to Trump’s lawyers in seeking to undermine Cohen's credibility.

Trump’s lawyers want a 90-day delay, but they’ve also asked Merchan to dismiss the case entirely, alleging the late disclosures amount to prosecutorial misconduct and violate rules governing the sharing of evidence. That sharing process, called discovery, is routine in criminal cases and is intended to help ensure a fair trial.

Prosecutors said in a court filing Thursday that the Trump legal team's allegations were “wholly unfounded, and the circumstances here do not come close to warranting the extreme sanctions” that are being sought.

They said there was no discovery violation because evidence-sharing rules apply only to material in their possession — not evidence kept by outside parties. They've also blamed Trump’s lawyers for bringing the time crunch upon themselves by waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the records from the U.S. attorney’s office — a mere nine weeks before jury selection was supposed to start.

The defense has also sought to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s presidential immunity claims, which his lawyers say could apply to some of the allegations and evidence in the hush money case. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments April 25.

Cohen broke with Trump in 2018 after a decade working for him and soon pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the hush-money payments, as well as unrelated charges of making false statements on a bank loan application, evading taxes related to his taxi industry investments and lying to Congress.

Cohen went to prison for about a year before being released to home confinement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He became an outspoken Trump foe and is poised to be a key prosecution witness against Trump. Trump and his lawyers, meanwhile, contend Cohen is untrustworthy.

In their case against Cohen, federal prosecutors said the hush money payments were 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 after losing the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden.