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Judge Juan Merchan sets April 15 trial date for Trump hush money case

Judge Juan Merchan set the date after finding Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office was not to blame for evidence that was turned over late.
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The judge presiding over Donald Trump's hush money case on Monday scheduled the trial to begin on April 15.

The ruling by Judge Juan Merchan came after the former president's attorneys had asked for a lengthy delay or for the falsifying business records charges against their client to be dismissed because of evidence that was turned over just this past month by federal prosecutors.

Merchan found Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office “is not at fault for the late production of documents from the U.S. Attorney’s office” and the case could proceed to trial next month.

Trump attorney Todd Blanche then asked the judge again for another delay given the pre-trial publicity surrounding the case. “There’s a lot of news because he’s running for president, which is another reason why he should not have to sit for a trial now,” Blanche said.

Merchan said he'd allow Blanche to file papers stating his case, but also indicated he wasn't going to budge. "See you all on the 15th," he said at the end of the hearing.

Trump attended the hearing, and blasted the new trial date as "election interference" afterward. "This is a case that could have been brought three and a half years ago," he said, calling the trial date "a disgrace." "We'll obviously be appealing," he said.

The former president appeared grim on his way into court as well. “This is a witch hunt. This is a hoax," he said.

Merchan had postponed the trial, originally scheduled to begin Monday, until at least mid-April after federal prosecutors belatedly turned over mounds of evidence related to a key witness in the case, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

While hearing arguments from both sides on who was to blame for the late production of evidence, Merchan blasted Trump's team suggesting the DA was responsible for federal prosecutors having not turned over the evidence earlier. “You are literally accusing the Manhattan DA’s office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct” while they had no control over their federal counterparts, the judge said.

He also said Trump's lawyers could have asked for the information earlier.

Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City
Donald Trump at Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, on Monday.Brendan McDermid / AFP - Getty Images

“It’s odd that we’re even here, and that we’ve taken this time,” Merchan said, before calling a 45-minute recess.

Trump looked angry as he exited the courtroom during a break ahead of Merchan's ruling.

Bragg, who brought the falsifying business records charges against the former president last year, said he supported a 30-day delay in the proceedings in response to Trump’s request for a postponement in order to review documents that federal prosecutors had turned over relating to their prosecution of former longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen.

Bragg’s office, however, warned Merchan against delaying the trial further, saying that it should proceed April 15 because fewer than 300 of more than 170,000 documents turned over by federal prosecutors are potentially relevant to Trump’s criminal defense.

The late document production came after Trump's attorneys asked in January for additional documents from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan. In the hearing, Merchan pressed Trump's lawyers on why they had not alerted him to the issue earlier, including during a hearing last month.

Blanche told the judge that they hadn't thought the judge could do anything about the issue, but apologized for not having raised it sooner.

Trump’s lawyers have pointed fingers at the district attorney's office for failing to obtain the records sooner and asked Merchan to toss out the charges. The DA’s office decried the arguments by Trump’s counsel as a “red herring.”

Merchan tried to press Trump's lawyer to provide a firm number of documents that still need to be reviewed. Blanche pushed back on the DA's position that only 300 documents were relevant and said they're still looking through Cohen's emails, bank records and interview notes. "We got the materials a week ago. We're still going through them," Blanche said, as his client appeared to listen intently.

The judge also pressed the DA's office on the Trump team's claim they had been trying to "suppress" evidence.

”We were not trying to obscure anything,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the judge.

In a sign of the ruling that was to come, the judge said before the break that he and Trump's attorneys appeared to be interpreting things differently. Merchan said Trump's attorneys were characterizing the DA's office as not having done anything in terms of obtaining information while he interpreted what prosecutors have done as going "above and beyond" what the needed to do.

Bragg has alleged that Trump had fraudulently altered business records related to hush money payments that he signed off on. Cohen claimed that Trump directed him to pay $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Daniels maintains that she had an affair with Trump in 2006, following his marriage to Melania Trump.

Trump pleaded not guilty to the charges in the hush money case and continues to deny having a sexual encounter with Daniels. But the former president has acknowledged making repayments to Cohen, who is expected to appear as a key witness in the trial.

Merchan last week denied Trump’s request to bar Cohen and Daniels from testifying in the case. In a court filing last month, Trump’s lawyers argued that Cohen and Daniels shouldn't testify because they are “liars.”

in 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges, including making secret payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, making false claims before Congress about the then-president’s business dealings with Russia and failing to report millions of dollars in income.

Monday’s hearing in the hush money case came the same day as a deadline for Trump to pay more than $450 million for bond in the New York civil fraud case against him. He got some good news during the recess, when a state appeals court reduced the size of the bond he needs to post to $175 million and gave him an additional 10 days to post. Trump, speaking to press in the hall, lauded the decision as proof the judge in the case erred in issuing the original judgment.

If he does post the amount, New York Attorney General Letitia James would not be able to begin collecting on the judgment until after the appeal is decided.