Trump’s criminal case in New York, which is likely to be the first to go to trial, faces a critical test

Written by Luke Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The first of four criminal cases brought against… Donald Trump He is expected to stand trial next week, when a New York judge is scheduled to issue a ruling on the Republican former US president’s request to dismiss the case because it is partisan and not covered by state law.

Trump, the front-runner to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, is scheduled to stand trial in state court in Manhattan starting March 25 on charges of falsifying business records to cover up a secret payment to a porn star before the 2016 election.

On February 15, Judge Juan Merchan is scheduled to rule on Trump’s motion to dismiss the 34-count indictment. Trump has pleaded not guilty and said the case should be dismissed because it was brought for partisan purposes and because state laws do not apply to federal elections.

Based on Merchan’s decision, the case could become the first criminal prosecution Trump faces before his expected November 5 rematch against Democratic President Joe Biden.

Last week, a federal judge in Washington postponed Trump’s trial on charges of seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. That trial was scheduled to begin on March 4.

Trump is seeking to dismiss this case, arguing that he enjoys immunity from prosecution for official acts he committed during his presidency. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday rejected that argument, but Trump said through a spokesman that he intends to appeal.

The trial in the federal criminal case in Florida accusing Trump of mishandling government documents is scheduled for May but could be postponed. No trial date has been set for his case in Georgia over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

Prosecutors allege a cover-up

The Manhattan case centers on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paying $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to prevent her from publicly claiming that she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 when he was married. Trump denies this issue.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws.

In impeaching Trump in April 2023, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said his New York-based family real estate company wrongly registered Trump’s compensation to Cohen as a power of attorney.

Prosecutors said that violated a state law against falsifying business records to conceal another crime. In this case, they said the payment violated federal campaign finance law and was part of a scheme to promote the candidacy “by illegal means,” violating state law.

Some critics have said the case is less serious than other cases facing Trump because it concerns his private life before taking office, not actions he took as president that affect the election or national security.

In a radio interview last December, Bragg framed the issue in terms of election integrity.

“This is about conspiring to corrupt the presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up — that’s the crux of the case,” Bragg said in an interview on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.”

Trump claims ‘selective prosecution’

In seeking dismissal, Trump’s lawyers wrote that he was targeted for “selective prosecution” by Bragg, a Democrat. Bragg’s office said anyone else who acted similarly would have been prosecuted, noting Cohen’s guilty plea.

Trump’s lawyers also argued that prosecutors cannot use Trump’s alleged concealment of federal election law violations to justify false records charges, and that state election law does not apply to federal candidates.

Bragg’s office said the business records fraud law is not limited to cases involving state-level crimes, and that state election law applies to federal campaigns.

A judge has already ruled against Trump on similar grounds.

In rejecting Trump’s attempt to move the case to federal court last year, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said that New York’s election law does not distinguish between state and federal elections, and that the falsification of business records law does not exempt federal elections.

Prosecutors appear to have a stronger case because the Business Records Act is not limited to covering up state crimes, said Anna Kominsky, a professor at New York Law School.

“It’s very broad,” Kominsky said. “This does not mean that the prosecutor has to prove that another crime was committed, it just means that there was that intent.”

(Reporting by Luke Cohen in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Jonathan Oatis)

(tags for translation)Donald Trump

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