Judge in Trump hush money case sets April 15 trial date, blasts prosecutorial misconduct allegation

The trial was delayed due to the discovery of additional potential evidence.

ByAaron Katersky, Peter Charalambous, Olivia Rubin, and Emily Shapiro ABCNews logo
Monday, March 25, 2024
Judge appears skeptical of delaying, dismissing Trump hush money case
The judge overseeing former President Donald Trump's hush money criminal case in New York seemed skeptical on Monday that the case needed to be delayed or dismissed because of a dispute over potential evidence.

NEW YORK -- Former President Donald Trump will stand trial over a hush payment to Stormy Daniels beginning with jury selection April 15, Judge Juan Merchan ruled Monday, rejecting Trump's request for an additional delay

The judge decided the District Attorney of New York County is not at fault for the late production of documents from the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York.

"The Manhattan District Attorney's office made diligent, good faith efforts" to retrieve appropriate material, the judge said, adding that Trump will not suffer any prejudice as a result of the late disclosure.

The judge was skeptical on Monday that the case needed to be delayed or dismissed because of a dispute over potential evidence, and called the defense's claims of prosecutorial misconduct "very disconcerting."

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"You are literally accusing the Manhattan DA's office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct and to make me complicit in it, and you don't have a single cite to support that position," Merchan told defense attorney Todd Blanche.

"This court is of the opinion that there really are not significant questions of fact to be resolved," Merchan said earlier about the defense's arguments to delay or dismiss the case.

The defense accused the Manhattan district attorney's office of "widespread misconduct" and "serious discovery violations" and argued they warranted a dismissal of the indictment, an adjournment of the trial and the prohibition on Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels from testifying.

"This is a witch hunt. This is a hoax. Thank you," Trump told the media before entering the courtroom this morning.

The case, which was initially scheduled to begin jury selection on Monday, was adjourned for 30 days by Merchan -- effectively placing the new trial date at approximately April 15 -- after defense attorneys raised issues with the late production of over 100,000 pages of potential evidence by federal prosecutors.

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Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo aggressively pushed back on the allegation that the District Attorney's Office actively suppressed potential evidence from defense attorneys.

"No, we are not actively suppressing ... discovery or impeachment materials," Colangelo said, reiterating the claim that most of the documents in question are irrelevant to the case against Trump.

Blanche argued that reviewing each document takes time and merits a delay. "Every document is important," he said. "Every single one."

Merchan set Monday's hearing to resolve a recent defense motion related to the potential evidence and set a final trial date for the case.

"[T]here are significant questions of fact which this Court must resolve before it may rule on Defendant's motion," Merchan wrote in a ruling earlier this month.

Defense attorneys have demanded a lengthier delay of the trial and limits on key testimony or the dismissal of the case based on the new materials, which they said damage the credibility of star witness and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and contain "exculpatory information that undercuts the People's theory of the case."

Last week, prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney's office pushed back on the defense's request, arguing that the recently disclosed potential evidence is "a red herring" and part of a "strategic delay." While the 30-day adjournment provided defense attorneys with a "reasonable amount of time for defendant to review the information," no further delay was necessary, according to the prosecutors' filing.

"Defendant has taken every possible step to evade accountability in this case for more than a year," prosecutors wrote in a filing last week. "Enough is enough. These tactics by defendant and defense counsel should be stopped."'

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Here are three things to know about the hearing.

How did defense lawyers find the new materials?

Two months after Trump was indicted last year, prosecutors turned over 3 million pages of documents, beginning the discovery process in which prosecutors share with the defense evidence obtained during their investigation.

"In the Manhattan DA's office, they do what's called open file discovery, which means their practice is to basically turn over every piece of paper that they get in the course of their investigation," former federal prosecutor Josh Naftalis told ABC News.

While the DA's office said that, in June 2023, they turned over all the materials they received from U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York -- which in 2018 secured a guilty plea from Cohen on campaign finance charges related to the Stormy Daniels payment -- Trump's lawyers sent a subpoena to the federal prosecutors on Jan. 18, 2024, seeking additional materials.

In their subpoena, defense lawyers requested Cohen's tax filings, bank records, files from his iPhone and email accounts, records memorializing statements made by Cohen, and communications with other law enforcement offices.

By Feb. 23, federal prosecutors with the SDNY agreed to disclose some of the records requested, including 10,778 pages of bank records and files from two iPhones and three email accounts, according to a defense filing. In total, federal prosecutors turned over 119,000 pages of records to Trump's defense team, according to a filing earlier this month.

"That's a lot of information for the defense to go through very quickly, so that kind of explains why the DA's office agreed to at least a 30-day extension of the time," former federal prosecutor Jarrod Schaeffer told ABC News.

What was included in SDNY's production?

The exact breakdown of the 119,000 pages of documents remains unclear, but the DA's office argues that most of the files are irrelevant to the case or have already been produced. In total, prosecutors said the materials contained fewer than 270 new documents, including 172 pages of new witness statements.

"[T]he People now have good reason to believe that this production contains only limited materials relevant to the subject matter of this case and that have not previously been disclosed to defendant: fewer than an estimated 270 documents, most of which are inculpatory and corroborative of existing evidence," prosecutors with the DA's office said.

Defense lawyers have argued that the documents are highly relevant and include materials that could be used to discredit Cohen or absolve Trump of wrongdoing.

While defense lawyers have highlighted the sheer number of pages produced by federal prosecutors, Naftalis cautioned that the documents' contents will ultimately determine Judge Merchan's next move.

"My guess is that 30 days is all that Trump's going to get because the volume of documents at issue really isn't that large in the grand scheme of things," Naftalis said. "That doesn't mean that these are all new documents, and there could be substantial overlap."

Why are Trump's lawyers arguing for dismissal?

Defense lawyers have accused the DA's office of misconduct in their push for a dismissal of the case, the limiting of key testimony, and a lengthier delay of the trial.

"The People have engaged in widespread misconduct as part of a desperate effort to improve their position at the potential trial on the false and unsupported charges in the Indictment," defense attorney Todd Blanche wrote in a recent filing.

Attorneys with the Manhattan DA's office pushed back on that motion, describing it as a inaccurate "grab-bag of meritless discovery arguments in the latest of a long series of attempts to evade responsibility for the conduct charged in the indictment."

"Defendant's accusations are wholly unfounded, and the circumstances here do not come close to warranting the extreme sanctions he has sought," assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo said in a filing last week.

If Judge Merchan does not dismiss the case, defense lawyers asked for a longer adjournment and preclusion of the testimony of Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and an expert witness.

Merchan will ultimately have to consider who, if anyone, should be culpable for the late production of evidence.

"It's really going to come down to have the prosecutors done what they're supposed to do -- meaning, have they been diligent and made a good-faith effort to get material that they believe exists and should be turned over," Schaeffer said.