Advertisement

Trump agitates hush money judge as he seeks to stave off NY trial

Former President Trump is pulling out all the stops to stave off the start of his first criminal trial, but the New York judge overseeing the case is increasingly appearing to lose his patience in the matter.

Judge Juan Merchan just this week refused to sideline the hush money case over alleged discovery violations, issued a gag order to the former president and even threatened his lawyers with criminal contempt, which all came in the form of separate court rulings.

The contentious dynamic was also on display in the courtroom Monday, along with other written filings, with the judge on multiple occasions accusing Trump’s team of attempting to circumvent the court’s rulings and question their lack of evidence.

It has left Trump’s lawyers with a waning list of options to postpone the April 15 trial date, though they are still pressing ahead with multiple pending motions to do so despite the judge’s irritation.

“Defendant, either directly or through counsel, has repeatedly stated publicly that the defense goal is to delay these proceedings, if possible, past the 2024 presidential election,” Merchan wrote in a Tuesday ruling noting the Trump team’s legal strategy.

On Monday, Trump walked into Merchan’s courtroom hoping to receive a major delay — or the dismissal of all charges — due to thousands of pages of documents being newly turned over to the parties by federal prosecutors.

Even Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) office, which has long resisted Trump’s delay efforts, consented to a 30-day postponement in the wake of the surprise twist.

But Merchan refused to go that far.

Instead, he punted the schedule by just three weeks. At the hearing, the judge went on to clobber Trump attorney Todd Blanche over his allegations that the case should be further delayed or tossed entirely because the new documents revealed discovery violations.

“You’re literally accusing the Manhattan DA’s office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct and trying to make me complicit in it. And you don’t have a single cite to support that position?” Merchan, raising his voice, scolded Blanche.

Leaning back in his chair, Trump spoke little as he stared at his lawyer and the judge during the back-and-forth. After a break, his mood visibly improved upon learning a separate court reduced his bond for his massive civil fraud judgment, providing Trump a lifeline to avoid having his assets seized.

But just minutes later, Merchan made any hope Trump felt short-lived. As the judge handed down his ruling keeping the April 15 hush money trial start date, the former president fidgeted in his chair. He showed visible frustration as he walked out of the courtroom — more quickly than his usual, slow trod — to head to the cameras.

“They’re dying to get this thing started. The judge cannot go faster. He wants to get it started so badly. And there’s tremendous corruption,” Trump told reporters.

Trump is charged in the case with 34 counts of falsifying business records connected to reimbursements to his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, who had paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 shortly before the 2016 election to stay quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump. Trump pleaded not guilty.

Trump has sought to delay all four of his criminal prosecutions so he can end or stall them if he first retakes the White House, and legal experts largely agree the hush money case may be the only of Trump’s indictments to reach a jury before November.

The former president still has various pending motions seeking postponement, however. Trump’s lawyers contend the trial should wait until the Supreme Court rules on Trump’s presidential immunity defense in another of his criminal cases, and they have separately demanded an adjournment over “prejudicial pretrial publicity.”

“[N]o fair and impartial jury can be selected in this County at any time in the near future, including in April of this year. Therefore, the Court should adjourn the trial date until the prejudicial media coverage subsides,” Blanche wrote in the motion, which was made public Tuesday.

The judge has not yet ruled on either demand, but he has been voicing increasing frustration with Trump’s lawyers’ tactics as the week has gone on.

On Tuesday, Merchan in a written ruling accused Trump’s lawyers of attempting to circumvent the judge’s requirement that they seek permission before filing any new motions. The judge implemented the step earlier this month, insisting it is necessary to save time as Trump relentlessly files last-minute delay attempts.

Merchan in the ruling also reminded Trump’s attorneys that he has power to issue punishment for criminal contempt.

“The Court advises counsel that it expects and welcomes zealous advocacy and creative lawyering. … However, the Court also expects those advocates to demonstrate the proper respect and decorum that is owed to the courts and its judicial officers and to never forget that they are officers of the court,” Merchan warned.

“As such, counsel is expected to follow this Court’s orders.”

Within hours, Merchan issued yet another ruling against Trump: granting Bragg’s request to gag the former president’s public statements.

Trump had argued such a restriction violates his First Amendment rights, and at the onset of the case, the judge said he didn’t think a gag order was needed. He apparently changed his mind after Trump’s repeated attacks on those involved in his legal entanglements, however.

The judge in his order also referenced Trump’s press conference Monday after leaving court, at which he attacked Matthew Colangelo, a top hush money prosecutor who was previously a senior official in the Biden-era Justice Department (DOJ).

Trump called Colangelo “a radical left from the DOJ,” claiming without evidence that the prosecution was being coordinated with the White House. Notably, Merchan mentioned the comment despite it not being brought to his attention in any public court filing.

The gag order now prevents Trump from making public statements about witnesses, jurors, court staff and prosecutors other than Bragg.

“The uncontested record reflecting the Defendant’s prior extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice,” Merchan wrote.

Though Trump is now required to pull back on his attacks of Colangelo and others, the former president hasn’t let up on attacking Merchan and his family, who do not appear to be covered by the order.

And unless things change, Trump can continue doing so every time he passes the cameras positioned outside the courtroom doors.

“The Judge has to recuse himself immediately, and right the wrong committed by not doing so last year,” Trump wrote Wednesday on Truth Social.

“If the Biased and Conflicted Judge is allowed to stay on this Sham ‘Case,’ it will be another sad example of our Country becoming a Banana Republic, not the America we used to know and love,” he added. “These are Election Interfering Witch Hunts. We will crush each one of these Hoaxes, and Make America Great Again!”

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.