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The judge in the ‘Stormy Daniels case’ agrees to delay the start of Trump’s first criminal trial until mid-April

The postponement gives the defense time to examine new evidence but also compromises the schedule of the other three pending cases against the former president in Washington, Georgia and Florida

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump
Donald Trump, former US president, in Richmond, Virginia.Jay Paul (REUTERS)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

Donald Trump’s criminal trial for paying porn actress Stormy Daniels hush money in 2016 will begin in April, after the judge in the case granted a 30-day delay. The lawyers for the former U.S. president and current Republican presidential candidate argued the late disclosure of evidence hurt the preparation of their defense.

Judge Juan Merchán’s decision to delay the first ever criminal trial against a former president of the United States is another victory for the Republican, whose defense has been based on procedurally slowing down all the trials he faces: four criminal cases — the one in New York plus three others in Washington, Georgia and Florida — and a couple of civil ones, for which he has been sentenced to multimillion-dollar fines. Buying time is critical for Trump’s political interests, as the November 5 election approaches, in which he will face Democrat Joe Biden, just as he did in 2020. This week, both men reached the number of delegates needed to guarantee their respective nominations.

On Thursday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office that brought the Stormy Daniels case — named for the actress whose silence Trump bought in 2016 so that their extramarital affair would not hurt him politically — against the former president requested that the start of the trial, originally scheduled for March 25, be delayed for a month. They made the request to give the defense time to review mountains of new evidence, tens of thousands of pages of documents that were once investigated by federal prosecutors for the trial of Michael Cohen, Trump’s right-hand man who paid Daniels hush money in 2016. Cohen later became a witness for the prosecution against his former boss and detailed Trump’s payments not only to Daniels, but to two other women who claimed to have had relations with Trump.

Manhattan District Attorney Democrat Alvin Bragg’s office had been pursuing the documents for a year. Once they were received, the prosecutors understood that the defense had the right to properly review the evidence, so they requested the postponement that Judge Merchán granted this Friday. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said that they were ready to proceed to trial as scheduled on March 25, when the jury was to be impaneled, but did not oppose a 30-day delay to ensure that Trump’s team had enough time to review the new material.

The 34-charge indictment in the Stormy Daniels case was the first of four criminal indictments filed against Trump last year. None of the other three cases have firm trial dates, but the delay in the New York trial could complicate scheduling for them. The Washington case is pending resolution of Trump’s lawyers’ appeal to the Supreme Court. All told, the defendant has been charged with 91 felonies.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the 34 counts of falsifying business records. They were categorized as “legal expenses” to conceal his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s payment of $130,000 to the porn actress; the money served to buy her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier, which she threatened to disclose in the final stretch of the presidential campaign. Trump also denies having had an affair with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

The criminal case for which Trump will stand trial stems from the proceedings against Cohen. In late 2018, Trump’s fixer was sentenced to three years in prison for a campaign finance crime, since the transaction sought to protect the image of the then-Republican candidate. Cohen did not serve his full sentence because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump’s lawyers have argued that Cohen paid Daniels to avoid embarrassing Trump’s family, not to boost his electoral chances, as the Manhattan District Attorney’s office alleges.

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