Trump loses last-minute bid to halt hush money trial while he seeks new venue

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the phone at the 18th green during day three of the LIV Golf Invitational – Miami at Trump National Doral Miami on April 07, 2024 in Doral, Florida. 

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A New York appeals court judge on Monday swiftly rejected a last-ditch bid by Donald Trump to delay his upcoming criminal hush money trial while he seeks to move the case to another court.

Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez denied Trump’s request on the same day his attorneys filed it, and less than two hours after a hearing where his attorneys argued that the former president cannot get a fair jury in New York, NBC News reported.

Trump’s lawyers asked the state appeals court to change the trial venue and pause a gag order that bars Trump from speaking about likely witnesses or the judge’s family, a source with direct knowledge told NBC. Trump has frequently targeted both groups in the run-up to the Manhattan Supreme Court trial, which is set to begin jury selection next week.

Trump is charged with falsifying business records to conceal a payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 presidential election. He has made at least eight other attempts to postpone the trial, according to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

Monday’s appeal was filed using a legal mechanism that allows a person to directly challenge a court’s actions, NBC reported. Doing so allows Trump to contest the case before the trial has even begun.

At a hearing Monday afternoon, defense attorney Emil Bove urged appellate Judge Lizbeth Gonzalez to delay the hush money trial, according to NBC.

Bove claimed Trump cannot receive a fair and impartial jury in New York because of the overwhelming publicity surrounding the case. The lawyer cited survey results showing that a majority of people in New York County believe Trump is guilty. He noted that those potential jurors have likely heard about an array of other allegations against Trump, who faces 91 criminal charges in four separate courts.

Steven Wu, arguing for the D.A., countered that the judge should deny Trump’s eleventh-hour request. The news about Trump’s legal struggles is being read worldwide, and Manhattan jurors are not uniquely incapable of acting as fair and impartial jurors, Wu said, according to NBC.

Wu added that Trump, who regularly rails against the case on social media and the campaign trail, is responsible for the media frenzy. He cannot drum up a media circus and then use that publicity to seek a change of trial venue, Wu told Gonzalez.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits with his lawyer Susan Necheles, in the courtroom at a hearing in his criminal case on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star in New York City, U.S., March 25, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on the appeal. Susan Necheles, another lawyer for Trump, declined to comment.

The appeal was first reported shortly after Bragg urged presiding Judge Juan Merchan to reject Trump’s latest request for the judge to recuse himself.

Bragg slammed that bid as a bad-faith effort to delay the trial and sidestep a gag order barring Trump from speaking about the judge’s daughter.

Trump’s “rewarmed” arguments for Merchan’s recusal offer nothing new from a prior attempt to get a new judge, Bragg wrote in a court filing.

Rather, Bragg argued, the current recusal motion is a “last-ditch” bid to postpone the trial that appears “transparently reverse-engineered” to justify Trump’s spate of recent attacks on Merchan’s adult daughter.

It’s “an effort to end-run” the gag order and “pollute the court” with attacks against the judge and his family “as part of a meritless effort to call the integrity of these proceedings into question,” Bragg wrote.’

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump, outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York, April 4, 2023. 

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Trump’s lawyers, in court filings Friday, argued that Authentic Campaigns, the Democratic consulting firm where Merchan’s daughter works, stands to benefit from the hush money case by using it to raise money and promote an anti-Trump message.

“Personal political views may not be a basis for recusal. But profiting from the promotion of a political agenda that is hostile to President Trump, and has included fundraising solicitations based on this case, must be,” they wrote.

Bragg, in Monday’s filing, called it “pure speculation to assume that rulings by this Court would affect Authentic’s contracts or revenue.” Even if the company were fundraising off the trial, it still wouldn’t be a sufficient basis for the judge’s recusal, Bragg added.

The filing came days after Merchan expanded a gag order on Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to prohibit him from making statements about the judge’s family members that could interfere with the case. Merchan also amended the order to bar Trump from speaking about Bragg’s family members.

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The strengthened gag order came after Trump sent a spate of social media posts targeting Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan, over her political work and claiming it proved the judge was biased.

Trump also accused Loren Merchan of controlling an X account that displayed a photo depicting Trump behind jail cell bars. New York’s court administration office denied that the judge’s daughter controlled that account at the time it posted that picture.

Judge Merchan wrote in the order that people watching Trump’s attacks may conclude that their loved ones may come under fire if they get involved in the case. The situation constitutes “a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself,” he wrote.

The judge last summer had rejected Trump’s first recusal request, which also focused on Loren Merchan’s political activities.

Bragg on Monday argued that Trump’s current recusal motion makes “identical” arguments, adding that the few points it includes that were not previously made are “wholly meritless.”

The hush money case is set to be the first of Trump’s four criminal cases to head to trial. The former president’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to dismiss or delay all of those cases while he runs to unseat Democratic incumbent President Joe Biden.

— CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this report.

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