Judge denies Trump’s bid to block Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels from testifying at New York criminal trial

Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen and adult film star Stormy Daniels will be allowed to testify at the former president’s New York criminal trial, a judge ruled Monday.

Judge Juan Merchan denied a motion from Trump’s attorneys to prevent Cohen and Daniels – two key witnesses in the Manhattan district attorney’s case – from testifying at Trump’s hush money trial, which could begin next month.

The judge also ruled that he would allow testimony about Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape – but that playing the tape itself to jurors was “not necessary.”

The district attorney’s office charged Trump with falsifying business records, accusing him of concealing the reimbursement of hush money payments Cohen made to Daniels before the 2016 election to keep her from going public about an alleged affair with Trump. The former president has pleaded not guilty and denies the affair.

Trump’s lawyers sought to block Cohen’s testimony, arguing that Cohen previously committed perjury and alleging that he lied in his testimony at Trump’s New York civil fraud trial last year.

But Merchan wrote in his decision that Cohen had not been charged with perjury for his more recent testimony.

“Defendant provides examples of situations where Cohen’s credibility has been called into question. However, he offers no proof of perjury in the case at bar,” Merchan wrote, noting that he found nothing to support “Defendant’s rationale that a prosecution witness should be kept off the witness stand because his credibility has previously been called into question.”

Merchan also denied a bid from Trump’s attorneys to block Daniels from testifying about the hush money payment she received from Cohen in 2016.

“Locating and purchasing the information from Daniels not only completes the narrative of events that precipitated the falsification of business records but is also probative of the Defendant’s intent,” Merchan wrote.

The judge also ruled he will allow testimony from former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Trump, though he granted there would be limitations on her testimony that would be discussed further at trial.

Merchan did not address in this ruling a complaint from Trump’s attorneys about a new documentary about Daniels, in which she spoke about the hush money payment.

Trump’s attorneys have argued the release of the documentary should be grounds to dismiss the indictment or delay the trial since it came one week before jury selection was scheduled to begin. They said some of Daniels’ statements, including concerning threats of violence, would be prejudicial to Trump. They blame prosecutors for not alerting them about the documentary.

The New York trial was supposed to begin March 25, but it has been delayed after new evidence was turned over this month from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Merchan has scheduled a hearing on March 25 to discuss the circumstances behind the new evidence and a motion from Trump to dismiss or delay the trial over it. He said he could set a new date after that hearing.

Judge will allow testimony about ‘Access Hollywood’ tape but not playing of it

Merchan wrote Monday that he would allow testimony about Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape, which was released one month before the presidential election in 2016. But he decided that playing the tape to the jury was not necessary.

Trump’s lawyers had objected to prosecutors’ desire to use the 2005 tape as evidence to show that Trump and his campaign staff “were deeply concerned that the tape would harm his viability as a candidate and reduce his standing with female voters in particular.”

Merchan wrote that he would allow testimony on the tape, in which Trump can be heard graphically bragging about how he would use his stardom to aggressively come on to women, because “it helps establish Defendant’s intent and motive for making the payment to Daniels and then, attempting to conceal them.”

But the judge added that he agreed with Trump’s lawyers “that a compromise should be struck to avoid undue prejudice to the Defendant.”

“This court rules that the proper balance lies in allowing the People to elicit testimony about a videotaped interview which surfaced on October 7, 2016, that contained comments of a sexual nature which Defendant feared could hurt his presidential aspirations,” Merchan wrote. “However, it is not necessary that the tape itself be introduced into evidence or that it be played to the jury.

The judge also gave Trump’s lawyers a warning in his decision: “The court may reconsider this aspect of the ruling should the Defense open the door.”

Merchan also declined to rule before trial on whether the district attorney’s office could introduce evidence of sexual assault allegations levied against Trump after the Access Hollywood tape was released, writing he was reserving that decision.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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