Trump seeks replacement of judge shortly before hush-money trial begins

Former President Donald Trump is asking a new judge just days before his hush-money criminal trial begins, revisiting longtime concerns with the existing judge in a last-ditch effort to disrupt and delay the case.

Trump’s lawyers, echoing his previous social media complaints, sought Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan to recuse himself from the case, citing bias and a conflict of interest since his daughter is a Democratic political consultant. Last August, the judge denied a similar motion.

In court documents made public Friday, Trump’s lawyers stated that it is improper for Merchan “to preside over these proceedings while Ms. Merchan benefits, financially and reputationally, from the manner in which this case is interfering” with Trump’s campaign as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

The trial is set to begin April 15. It is the first of Trump’s four criminal prosecutions scheduled for trial, and it will be the first time a former president has faced a criminal trial.

Trump seeks replacement of judge shortly before hush-money trial begins

Merchan did not immediately rule. The decision is fully up to him. If he were to go, the trial timeline would be thrown into disarray, providing Trump a long-awaited break while a replacement judge was brought up to speed.

Messages for comment were left with a court spokesman and Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan. The Manhattan district attorney’s office stated there is no cause for Merchan to step down.

The defense’s arguments that Loren Merchan profits from her father’s judgments necessitate “multiple attenuated factual leaps here that undercut any direct connection” between her firm and this case, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo wrote to the judge.

“This daisy chain of innuendos is a far cry from evidence” that Judge Merchan has a direct, personal, or financial interest in reaching a certain judgment, Colangelo wrote.

Loren Merchan is the president of Authentic Campaigns, which has received at least $70 million in payments from Democratic candidates and causes since she co-founded the company in 2018, according to documents.

Past clients include President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Senate Majority PAC, a high-spending political committee led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Campaign finance filings show that the Senate Majority PAC paid Authentic Campaigns $15.2 million.

In a second event Friday, Merchan denied Trump’s lawyers’ request that NBC hand them with materials relating to its recent documentary about porn performer Stormy Daniels, a crucial prosecution witness. He determined that the defense’s subpoena was “the very definition of a fishing expedition” and did not meet the legal standard for ordering a news outlet to grant access to its notes and records.

Trump seeks replacement of judge shortly before hush-money trial begins

On Wednesday, Merchan denied the probable Republican nominee’s request to postpone the trial until the Supreme Court weighs on presidential immunity arguments presented in another of his criminal cases. The judge has yet to rule on another defense delay motion, this one saying that he will not receive a fair trial due to “prejudicial media coverage.”

The hush money case revolves on charges that Trump altered his company’s records to conceal the nature of payments made to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who assisted Trump in burying bad stories during his 2016 campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to hide her accusations of an illicit sexual encounter with Trump years ago.

Last year, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying company documents. He denied having intercourse with Daniels. His lawyers argue that the payments to Cohen were acceptable legal expenditures.

Last week, Trump used his Truth Social platform to attack the judge and his daughter, foreshadowing his lawyers’ latest bid to have Merchan withdraw from the case.

Trump claimed, without evidence, that Merchan’s rulings, particularly his decision to put a gag order on him, were influenced by his daughter’s consulting interests. He falsely claimed that she uploaded a social media snapshot of him behind prison. Trump’s assaults on Loren Merchan prompted the judge to extend the gag order to prevent him from making public statements about his family.

“The Judge has to recuse himself immediately, and right the wrong committed by not doing so last year,” Trump stated in a tweet on March 27, 2017. “If the Biased and Conflicted Judge is allowed to stay on this Sham ‘Case,’ it will be another sad example of our Country becoming a Banana Republic, not the America we used to know and love.”

Trump also urged the judge in his Washington, D.C., election interference lawsuit to disqualify herself, arguing that her previous remarks about him called into question her capacity to be fair. But U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan declared she had no cause to step aside.

Merchan’s daughter played a key role in the defense’s calls for his recusal last year. They also seized on many tiny donations made by the judge to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign. They totaled $35, including $15 for Biden.

Trump seeks replacement of judge shortly before hush-money trial begins

Merchan denied the plea, saying last August that a state court ethics tribunal determined that Loren Merchan’s work had no influence on his impartiality. The judge stated that he was confident in his “ability to be fair and impartial” and that Trump’s lawyers “failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete, or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds.”

Trump’s lawyers argue that conditions have changed, with Trump facing President Joe Biden again, and Democrats — including Loren Merchan’s firm clients — attempting to capitalize on Trump’s legal difficulties with fundraising emails structured around developments in the hush-money case.

“It would be completely unacceptable to most New Yorkers if the judge presiding over these proceedings had an adult child who worked at WinRed or MAGA Inc.,” Blanche and Necheles wrote, referring to a Republican fundraising platform and a Trump-supporting fundraising committee.

In seeking Merchan’s recusal, Trump’s lawyers questioned his decision to give an interview to The Associated Press last month, implying that he may have violated judicial conduct rules, as well as his use of a court spokesperson last week to deny Trump’s claims that she had posted an image of Trump in jail.

In the interview, Merchan told the Associated Press that he and his colleagues were working hard to prepare for the historic first trial of a former president, noting, “There is no agenda here. We want to follow the law. We want justice done.”

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