Tuesday June 25th, 2024 7:04PM

Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors won't be penalized for a last-minute document dump that caused former President Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial to start later than scheduled, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Juan M. Merchan rejected the defense’s request that prosecutors be sanctioned for a deluge of nearly 200,000 pages of evidence just weeks before the trial‘s scheduled start. The documents were from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Merchan agreed to delay the start of the trial from March 25 to April 15 to allow the former president’s lawyers to review the material. But at a hearing in March, he rejected their claim that the case had been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, and denied their bid to delay the case longer, throw it out entirely or bar key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels from testifying.

In a written ruling issued Thursday, Merchan reiterated that Trump didn't suffer any prejudice from the document dump because he and his lawyers were “given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material.”

Merchan said he reached the conclusion after reviewing written submissions by both sides, including timelines they provided to him chronicling the disclosure of evidence, as well arguments and clarifications that were made at the March 25 hearing on the issue.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined comment on the ruling. A message seeking comment was left with Trump’s lawyers.

After testimony from 22 witnesses over the last month, including Cohen and Daniels, the first criminal trial of a former president is slated to move to closing arguments next Tuesday, with jury deliberations expected to follow as early as Wednesday.

Trump’s lawyers had accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office of intentionally failing to pursue evidence from the 2018 federal investigation, which sent Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to prison.

They contended prosecutors working under Bragg, a Democrat, did so to gain an unfair advantage in the case and harm Trump’s election chances. Cohen, now a vocal Trump critic, was a key prosecution witness against his ex-boss.

At the March 25 hearing, Merchan said the DA’s office had no duty to collect evidence from the federal investigation, nor was the U.S. attorney’s office required to volunteer the documents. What transpired was a “far cry” from Manhattan prosecutors “injecting themselves in the process and vehemently and aggressively trying to obstruct your ability to get documentation,” the judge said.

“It’s just not what happened,” Merchan said.

The DA’s office denied wrongdoing and blamed Trump’s lawyers for waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the records from the U.S. attorney’s office — a mere nine weeks before the trial was originally supposed to start. Merchan told defense lawyers they should have acted sooner if they believed they didn’t have all the records they wanted.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records by falsely logging payments to Cohen, then his personal lawyer, as legal fees in his company’s books when they were reimbursements for a $130,000 hush money payment he made to Daniels. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump did it as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what he says were false stories of extramarital sex.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payoff. He said Trump directed him to arrange it, and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but Trump was never charged.

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