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N.Y. appeals judge rejects Trump’s attempt to delay hush money trial

NEW YORK — A New York appeals court judge Monday rejected Donald Trump’s attempt to delay the hush money trial scheduled to begin April 15 while he pursued an appeal to determine whether a change of venue is necessary outside Manhattan, a largely liberal part of the state.

A short time after an emergency hearing, the court denied the request for a stay of the trial, effectively ending the matter because a full panel will not review the merits of the request.

The Trump team also filed an appeal Monday that named New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan as a defendant over his issuance of a limited gag order ahead of the trial, according to court records and defense arguments.

Legal arguments about the gag order are expected to be heard by an emergency appeals judge on Tuesday.

At the emergency hearing late Monday afternoon, appeals Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez heard arguments from Trump lawyer Emil Bove about a recent survey of Manhattan residents commissioned by the defense. Of those surveyed, 61 percent said they believed Trump was guilty in the hush money case, according to the attorney.

Bove asked for the trial to be placed on hold.

“Our point is that jury selection cannot proceed in a fair manner next week in this county,” Bove said.

Steven Wu, an attorney for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office, argued that selecting a fair jury is possible even among people who have preconceived notions about the case if they say they can be fair and evaluate the facts.

Wu also said Trump has been seeking much of the media coverage that the defense now says has poisoned the jury pool.

“This is the defendant coming into this argument with unclean hands because the publicity is in large part his own,” Wu said.

A copy of the 42-question survey jurors will fill out was made public on Monday. In addition to basic biographical questions, there are several that will attempt to extract the political leanings of each candidate. Prospective panelists will be asked to check off which news outlets they follow from a list of newspapers and cable networks.

They will also be asked about which social media sites they frequent for news from a list of several that includes Truth Social, Trump’s platform.

Some questions revolved around political activity, like whether they have attended Trump rallies or whether they’ve ever been involved with QAnon, a conspiracy theory network, far right-leaning groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, or the far-left and anti-establishment antifa.

Question No. 34 asked if jurors had “any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs” about Trump and his candidacy “that would interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror.” The following question asks whether they have read books written by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and a key witness in the case, or a book by former Trump prosecutor Mark Pomerantz.

Merchan wrote in an attached cover letter that he will release any jurors who promptly reports that they could not be fair.

In the trial scheduled to begin April 15, Trump faces 34 counts of falsifying business records related to a $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. The payment was allegedly to keep her quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump years earlier.

Prosecutors say Trump’s reimbursements to Cohen, who made the payment to Daniels, were illegally documented as legal fees even though it was carried out to support Trump’s campaign. Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court in 2018 to campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payment which was said to have been done at Trump’s direction. Trump was never charged by federal prosecutors but Cohen served prison time for that and other crimes including lying to Congress.

Bragg’s office has said that Trump purposely concealed the nature of his payments to Cohen to avoid having to publicly disclose it as a campaign-related expense.

Court documents were not immediately publicly available Monday but a person with knowledge of the proceedings, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss them, said a set of filings centered on Merchan’s limited gag order protecting people involved in the case and their relatives.

Trump — the likely Republican presidential nominee — has been openly critical of people, including Merchan’s adult daughter, on the campaign trail and on social media. The judge issued a limited gag order on March 26 that barred Trump from publicly discussing various players in the case including court staff, witnesses and some prosecutors or their families.

The order did not prohibit comments about Bragg, Merchan or their relatives, but concerns grew after Trump continued to discuss Merchan’s daughter on social media.

Merchan expanded the order on April 1 to include protections for Bragg’s family members and his own, saying Trump’s “pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose.”

“It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members are ‘fair game’ for [Trump’s] vitriol,” Merchan’s order said.

The judge also warned that Trump’s behavior could lead to a ruling that would bar him from having access to juror names, which will be available to the parties but will not be made public.

Two days after the order was expanded, Trump posted items by conservative bloggers discussing the judge and his daughter, who runs a political marketing and fundraising company serving Democratic candidates including the President Biden and Vice President Harris campaign.

Trump and his advocates have argued that the judge cannot be fair because of his close ties to someone whose profession revolves around supporting Democratic campaigns.

In August, the defense lost a motion to have Merchan recuse himself from the case based on his daughter’s job and because of a pair of small donations the judge apparently made to Biden’s campaign and to a progressive organization. Merchan gave $15 to Biden in 2020, and he made two $10 donations to Democratic groups.

Trump has been indicted in three other jurisdictions with charges pending in each.

In D.C., Trump faces charges that he tried to obstruct the election before the Jan. 6 insurrection. In Georgia he is indicted in a state-level case for trying to undo the results of the 2020 election. He also has a federal case in Florida for alleged violations of the Espionage Act by illegally retaining classified government documents after leaving office. He faces additional counts there on obstructing government efforts to retrieve them.

He has pleaded not guilty to all 88 counts he faces.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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