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Trump says hush money prosecutors sought to block access to Michael Cohen evidence

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump on Friday accused the New York prosecutors who charged him with crimes stemming from hush money paid to a porn star of trying to obstruct his access to damaging information about his former lawyer Michael Cohen, a key witness in the case.

The first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president has been scheduled for March 25. That timing was thrown into question when the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said on Thursday it would not oppose a 30-day delay due to late disclosure of evidence from federal prosecutors.

The district attorney's office blamed the delay on Trump, who is seeking to regain the presidency this year. Trump on Jan. 18 subpoenaed the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan office for additional information about Cohen, who in 2018 pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges over the payment to porn star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump has requested that the trial be delayed by 90 days or that the indictment be dismissed altogether. In a court filing made public on Friday, his lawyers asked Justice Juan Merchan to hold a hearing during the week of March 25 to discuss the timing of the trial.

They accused Bragg of obstructing "Trump's access to discoverable information that we should be permitted to use to challenge the credibility of their star witness, Michael Cohen." They also said they subpoenaed federal prosecutors after failing to get documents directly from Cohen.

Bragg's office opposed Trump's Oct. 17 subpoena to Cohen, calling the request "extraordinarily broad." Cohen also opposed it. Merchan on Dec. 18 ordered Cohen to comply with some of Trump's requests, but denied Trump's bid to get material such as Cohen's tax information and book publishing deals.

Bragg's office has said it has fully complied with its obligations to hand over potentially useful evidence to Trump. In a separate filing on Friday, it said the bulk of the 73,000 pages federal prosecutors turned over to Trump between March 4 and March 8 were "irrelevant" to the case.

"We understand that the vast majority of the forthcoming records, like the initial productions, are likely to be unrelated to the subject matter of this case," the district attorney's office wrote.

Trump is accused of directing Cohen to pay Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, $130,000 for her to remain silent about a sexual encounter she has said they had a decade earlier, and then lying to cover it up.

Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election, has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts in the case, one of four indictments he faces. He also denies having had an encounter with Daniels.

Cohen's testimony at trial is expected to be important to bolstering the prosecution case that Trump knew his payment to Daniels violated campaign finance law, and that he falsely recorded his reimbursement to Cohen as "legal expenses" in his real estate company's books to conceal that crime.

Trump's defense lawyers have made clear they plan to challenge Cohen's credibility at trial.

Any delay to the hush money trial could complicate efforts to schedule trials in Trump's three other criminal cases, which stem from his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office in 2021. Trump also has pleaded not guilty in those cases.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)