Trump’s ‘Hush Money’ Trial to Begin March 25, Judge Rules

Former President Donald Trump and his legal team derided the case as ‘election interference.’
Trump’s ‘Hush Money’ Trial to Begin March 25, Judge Rules
Former President Donald Trump arrives for a pre-trial hearing in a 'hush money' case at Manhattan Criminal Court, on Feb. 15, 2024. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Sam Dorman

New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan said on Feb. 15 that former President Donald Trump’s “hush money” trial would proceed with jury selection starting on March 25.

President Trump’s attorneys blasted the decision to keep the March date, complaining that Trump will have to stand trial in New York at the same time as he is attempting to sew up the Republican presidential nomination.

“It is completely election interference to say ‘you are going to sit in this courtroom in Manhattan,'” defense lawyer Todd Blanche said. “What about his rights?”

The March 25 date places the trial in the middle of the campaign season, just weeks after Super Tuesday. President Trump’s Washington trial was set to start on March 4, just a day before Super Tuesday, but was postponed because of his appeal related to presidential immunity.

Noting that he resisted defense lawyer urgings from months ago to postpone the trial, Justice Merchan said: “I’m glad I took that position because here we are; the D.C. case did not go forward.”

Just before the Feb. 15 hearing, President Trump criticized the prosecution as a form of election interference.

“Heading to yet another Courthouse in Manhattan on a case that would have never been brought if I wasn’t running for Pres. The Biden DOJ has its top person here in charge,” he wrote in a TruthSocial post.

“Case should have never been brought, there is no crime. They want it before Election. ... Could have been brought 3 years ago. They waited until Election Period.”

Outside the courtroom, President Trump similarly derided the case as “election interference.”

“This is not a crime, and when you look at what’s going on outside on the streets, where violent crime is at an all-time high, I think it’s a very, very—it’s a great double standard,” he said.

“This is a real dark period for our country.”

President Trump’s legal and political schedule is already shaping up to be chaotic heading into the election.

“How can you run for election if you’re sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?“ he asked reporters. ”I’m supposed to be in South Carolina now.”

Scheduled for Feb. 24, the South Carolina Republican primary could be a critical juncture for former South Carolina governor and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, who is President Trump’s main opponent for the GOP nomination. Ms. Haley has lost to the former president in multiple primary contests.

The Charges

The trial, scheduled for late March, comes nearly a year after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought his 34-count indictment accusing the former president of falsifying business records related to the alleged hush money.

President Trump, Mr. Bragg’s office alleges, paid his former attorney Michael Cohen with 11 checks that were illegally disguised as payment in a “non-existent retainer agreement.”

The felony falsifying business records charge also requires the prosecutor to provide evidence that the documents were falsified to further another crime. Mr. Bragg has alleged that it was done to conceal campaign finance violations. However, President Trump has not been charged with federal campaign finance violations concerning the alleged hush money payments.

It’s unclear whether President Trump will face any prison time if found guilty. The charge he faces is a class E felony, the lowest tier in New York state. The Associated Press reported that newspaper archives have historically shown that defendants usually don’t receive prison time for the felony.

Mr. Cohen admitted to arranging payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels ($130,000) and former Playboy model Karen McDougal ($150,000).

The former president has denied wrongdoing and participation in the alleged affairs. He said the indictment was “political persecution” and that the payments to Mr. Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.