Trump Appears Virtually for Hearing in Manhattan Criminal Case, Judge Sets Trial Date

Trump Appears Virtually for Hearing in Manhattan Criminal Case, Judge Sets Trial Date
Former U.S. President Donald Trump is accompanied by members of his legal team, Susan Necheles and Joe Tacopina, as he appears in court for an arraignment on charges stemming from his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury, April 4, 2023. (REUTERS/ Andrew Kelly)
Gary Bai

NEW YORK—Former President Donald Trump appeared remotely in the Manhattan Criminal Court on Tuesday to hear a judge’s instructions on his handling of discovery evidence in the criminal case brought against him by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The hearing was Trump’s first appearance after the former President pleaded not guilty in April to 34 counts of felony-level falsifying business records related to alleged hush money payments to adult entertainment actress Stormy Daniels.
Speaking to Trump, who appeared via video conference, Judge Juan Merchan of the New York Supreme Court told the former president that he signed a protective order on discovery evidence in the case on May 8 and that the protective order (pdf) is a court mandate. The protective order limits what materials Trump could view and where he could view them and bars the former president, or anyone on his team, from leaking the discovery materials to the public.

These discovery materials include grand jury minutes and exhibits, witness statements, materials related to subpoenas, and the DA office’s internal emails, prosecutors of the Manhattan DA’s office indicated during April’s arraignment hearing.

The judge told Trump and his lawyer Todd Blanche that a violation of the protective order could result in sanctions, including charging Trump with contempt of court. Contempt of court is a criminal charge that could result in fines or imprisonment.
It came after prosecutors from the Manhattan District Attorney argued in a court filing (pdf) on April 26 that Trump should be forbidden, via a protective order from the court, from sharing discovery evidence with the media or the public.

This protective order is needed, the prosecutors claim, to protect “witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, trial jurors, grand jurors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against” Trump from being put in harm in case the former President publishes those materials.

Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche said during the hearing that because Trump is “running for the President of the United States, he very much is concerned that his first amendment rights are being violated.”

In response, the judge said that the protective order is “certainly not a gag order” and that it is not his intention to hinder Trump’s ability to campaign for the president.

After brief deliberations between the two sides, the judge has set a new pre-trial schedule. He said that Trump’s lawyers have until Aug. 29 to file pre-trial motions, and the plaintiff has until Oct. 10 to respond. The judge said he would issue a decision on the pretrial motions on Jan. 4 at 9:30 a.m., and the trial is to begin on March 25, 2024.

Trump’s lawyers are expected to file motions to dismiss charges on the basis that the prosecutors on the case have engaged in selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct, as Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina indicated during Trump’s arraignment hearing last month.

“Just had New York County Supreme Court hearing where I believe my First Amendment Rights, ‘Freedom of Speech,’ have been violated, and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25th, right in the middle of Primary season. Very unfair, but this is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social shortly following the hearing.
“It’s called ELECTION INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before!!!” Trump wrote.

A Historic Indictment

Trump’s indictment in April marked him as the first former president in American history to become criminally charged, though experts have noted that Bragg’s case rests on shaky legal grounds.
The 16-page indictment and 13-page statement of facts (pdf), released on April 4 after Trump was arraigned, say that Trump falsified records related to multiple payments made to keep concealed negative information about him.

Prosecutors allege that Trump directed one of his lawyers, Michael Cohen, during the 2016 presidential election to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to prevent her from going public about an alleged affair between her and Trump in 2006, which the former president denies.

Court filings allege that Trump then reimbursed Cohen through monthly checks and documented that payment as legal expenses in the Trump Organization, leading to 34 false entries in New York business records.

A felony falsifying records charge requires a prosecutor to prove that it was done with the intent to hide the commission of a second crime.

The indictment and court documents do not specify this second crime. But Bragg, at a press conference following the indictment hearing, mentioned three possibilities: a violation of state election law that bars any conspiracy to promote a candidate “by unlawful means,” a violation of a federal cap on campaign contributions, and a violation of state tax law.

Alan Dershowitz, a professor who taught at Harvard Law School for nearly fifty years, expressed skepticism of the legal grounds supporting Bragg’s case, saying he is using “made-up laws” to muster a politically motivated attack.

“Nobody should ever be arrested based on made-up laws or combining a federal and state statute,” Dershowitz told The Epoch Times in an interview in March when news broke that Trump could be criminally charged. “I taught criminal law for 50 years at Harvard, and the one rule was, no creativity is permitted by prosecutors. The law has to be clear.”

“It’s not a righteous prosecution. It’s not a just prosecution. And I think every libertarian, whether you’re conservative, or liberal, should be opposed to it,” he said.

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