Judge Rules Against Trump’s Presidential Immunity Defense in Hush Money Case

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Judge Rules Against Trump’s Presidential Immunity Defense in Hush Money Case

The judge presiding over Donald Trump‘s falsifying business records case shot down his bid to use presidential immunity as part of his defense, finding the former president waited too long to raise the issue.

In his ruling Wednesday, Judge Juan Merchan also denied Trump’s motion to delay the trial’s start date until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on his immunity claims in the federal election interference case in Washington, D.C.

Trump had contended in a New York filing last month that he’s immune from state prosecution based on “official acts,” and that some of the evidence against him should be kept out of the impending trial because they were official presidential acts — including his tweets and public comments.

Merchan rejected the request, saying Trump had waited too long to raise the argument. “This Court finds that Defendant had myriad opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024” but failed to do so, the judge wrote.

The evidence Trump’s attorneys are trying to keep out of the case pertains to statements that he made while in office about two key prosecution witnesses: former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Merchan said Wednesday Trump had been on notice that prosecutors planned to use evidence of “the alleged pressure campaign” on the pair for several months.

“The Defendant had ample notice that the People were in possession of, and intended to use, the various statements allegedly made by Defendant on social media, in public, and in various interviews. He was also well aware that the defense of presidential immunity, even if unsuccessful, might be available to him,” the judge wrote.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records related to money he paid to Cohen to reimburse him for a $130,000 hush money payment the lawyer made to Daniels in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign. Daniels claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, an allegation Trump denies.

Trump publicly blasted both of them in 2018 after Cohen pleaded guilty to related charges.

Merchan noted in Wednesday’s ruling that Trump had tried raising an immunity defense when he sought to have the Manhattan district attorney’s case moved to federal court last year. That effort was firmly rejected by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely a personal item of the President — a cover-up of an embarrassing event. Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President’s official acts,” Hellerstein wrote in his ruling last summer.

Merchan said that despite the attempted use of the defense last year, Trump “strategically waited until March 7” to try to raise it in the state case. He called that delay “unjustifiable” and said it “raises real questions about the sincerity and actual purpose of the motion.”

Attorneys for Trump also argued in last month’s filing that the hush money trial, now scheduled to start April 15, should be put on pause pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on Trump’s immunity arguments. The high court is scheduled to hear those arguments on April 25.

Merchan rejected that request in Wednesday’s ruling as well.

An attorney for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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