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Judge delays Trump hush money trial in New York

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal hush money trial in Manhattan has agreed to delay its start, injecting more uncertainty into the legal calendar for the former president.

The trial had been scheduled to begin on March 25.

A new trial date is yet to be determined, but is not likely before mid-April.

The announcement follows a contentious back-and-forth between the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the Trump legal team over the production of tens of thousands of documents turned over this month by the Department of Justice.

A March 25 hearing will address the events specifically surrounding the documents turned over this month, as well as Trump’s motions to dismiss the case and sanction District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office over what he says are repeated discovery violations.

“There are significant questions of fact which this Court must resolve before it may rule on Defendant’s motion,” Judge Juan Merchan wrote Friday. “Therefore, the Court agrees with Defendant that a prompt hearing is required on the pending discovery motion, the circumstances surrounding the document production by the USAO-SDNY and the scheduling of a trial date, if one is necessary.”

“Trial on this matter is adjourned for 30 days from the date of this letter on consent of the People. The court will set the new trial date, if necessary, when it rules on Defendants motion following the hearing,” the judge added.

CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said the delay shows that Merchan is concerned about the dispute over document production.

“The judge’s letter tells me he is taking the defense allegations seriously,” Honig said. “The judge now has demanded that prosecutors provide him chapter-and-verse details on how the documents came to be produced so belatedly to the defense.”

Merchan ordered the parties, namely Trump, to avoid scheduling any commitments that would compete with the new trial timeline based on the 30-day delay.

The parties must file a detailed timeline of the events surrounding document requests and productions from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York including all correspondence by March 21.

Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records, stemming from reimbursements made to Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for hush money payments he made before the 2016 election to an adult film star alleging an affair with Trump. The former president has pleaded not guilty and denied the affair with Stormy Daniels.

On Thursday, the district attorney’s office said that it would be willing to accept a 30-day delay to the start of the trial to give Trump’s team time to go through the discovery documents.

Finger-pointing over new documents

Trump’s lawyers say the new information is exculpatory for the former president and damaging to prosecutors’ key witness, Michael Cohen, so they need at least 90 days to properly review the new material.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has said the majority of the records are not relevant to the charges on trial, but still consented to a delay of up to 30 days “in an abundance of caution.” Bragg’s office did acknowledge some of the new documents pertain to the state’s case against Trump.

Federal prosecutors turned over the last batch of about 15,000 pages Friday, according to Merchan’s order. In all, more than 100,000 pages of documents have been turned over in recent weeks.

Bragg’s office says it expects most of those documents to be unrelated to the state’s case.

The US attorney’s office in Manhattan amassed information about the hush money scheme when it built a case years ago against Trump’s former fixer. Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea on charges related to the hush money transactions and other unrelated crimes sparked the state investigation into Trump’s role in the scheme.

Blame-shifting over the 11th-hour document dump has played out in public court filings between attorneys for Trump and the state this week.

Prosecutors say they properly requested and gave Trump any required information produced by the US attorney’s office last year, blaming the late record production on Trump’s lawyers who they say waited to subpoena the information until mid-January.

Attorneys for Trump, however, say they didn’t force federal prosecutors with a subpoena but have received the new information in response to a “straightforward request” to the US attorney’s office.

The fact that the US attorney’s office produced the documents “without any enforceable compulsory process from the defense, is strong evidence that the People failed in their obligation to ‘make a diligent, good faith effort to ascertain the existence of material or information discoverable,’” a Trump letter filed Friday says.

Bragg’s office maintains they properly turned over all case material to Trump’s lawyers and did not violate any procedural requirements to warrant a dismissal of the case.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York has declined to comment on the matter.

Typically, a judge will grant a delay when both parties agree to postpone legal proceedings.

But setting aside Trump’s packed litigation schedule, Merchan will have to consider his own docket, too, which includes the trial of ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon set to face money laundering, conspiracy and fraud charges before Merchan on May 1.

Trump’s attorneys also raised the issue of the Jewish holiday of Passover that begins in late April, which they say will conflict with Bragg’s recommended 30-day delay.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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