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Trump fails to dodge Stormy Daniels hush money case, historic trial set for April 15

NEW YORK — The first criminal trial of a former U.S. president in the nation’s history will kick off April 15 in Manhattan with jury selection in Donald Trump’s Stormy Daniels hush money case, a judge ruled Monday after rejecting the former president’s efforts to avoid it.

Following a hearing on what was supposed to be the first day of the trial before the recent release of old court records tied to Michael Cohen threw the timeline into disarray, state Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan found no truth to Trump’s claims that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had illegally sought to sabotage his defense through evidence suppression.

Trump’s lawyers had asked Merchan to dismiss the DA’s case based on filings tied to his former fixer’s 2018 conviction recently provided by feds in the Southern District of New York, which they claimed helped his case and should have been obtained sooner by prosecutors, or delay the trial, and to issue sanctions against prosecutors.

DA Alvin Bragg’s office, in turn, asked Merchan to disregard the “wild and untrue allegations” and said they diligently sought to procure evidence from Cohen’s case and shared with Trump what they got. Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo said a tiny portion of the newly released paperwork — around 300 pages out of 195,000 — was relevant to the charges against Trump; on Trump’s side, they considered it to be more in the ballpark of “tens of thousands.”

Merchan said starting the trial on April 15 gave Trump’s side enough time to review the new docs. He said it was “really disconcerting” that Trump attorney Todd Blanche couldn’t cite “case law, (a) statute, anything” to support the defense’s position that the federal prosecutor’s office was under the DA’s control or direction.

“Because the allegation that the defense makes — in all of your papers — about the people’s misconduct is incredibly serious, unbelievably serious,” the judge said.

“You are literally accusing the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the people assigned to this (case) of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct and of trying to make me complicit in it, and you don’t have a single cite to support that position?”

The judge asked Blanche how long he’d been a federal prosecutor before switching to private defense. He said he was flummoxed by repeatedly reading the same things as the attorney but coming away with a totally different understanding.

“You read one statute, I read the same statute, I come away with a very different reading,” the judge said.

“(The prosecution) went so far above and beyond what they were required to do,” he added. “It’s odd that we’re even here.”

Trump scowled as he walked into the 15th-floor courtroom with his Secret Service entourage just before 10 a.m. and whispered to his lawyers throughout the hearing. He didn’t look over at Bragg seated in the gallery.

“This is a witch hunt and a hoax,” he said on his way into the courtroom.

The Republican front-runner for president has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records that allege he concealed checks to Cohen in 2017 to disguise that they were repayment for a hush money payoff to Daniels before the 2016 election.

Bragg’s office says Trump misclassified 34 payments to Cohen totaling $420,000 as payment for “legal services” to cloak a broader “catch and kill” scheme his then-personal lawyer helped orchestrate to secure his presidential victory.

Cohen, expected to be the star witness at trial, pleaded guilty to related federal charges in 2018, admitting he paid off Daniels at Trump’s behest and copping to other crimes, including tax evasion and lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings with Russia.

It wasn’t all bad news for Trump on Monday. He scored a victory in his civil fraud case midway through its hearing when an appeals court agreed to let him pay $175 million of the $454 million he owes to hold off the state attorney general going after his properties as he appeals.