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Trump's defense in hush money trial to stop short of blaming his lawyers

FILE PHOTO: A combination photo of Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels and U.S. President Donald Trump

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Donald Trump will stop short of blaming his lawyers for the conduct at issue in his upcoming trial on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star, the former president's current defense lawyers said in a filing made public on Tuesday.

He will not formally assert a so-called advice-of-counsel defense at the first-ever trial of a former U.S. president, due to begin March 25, Trump's lawyers said. But Trump's team does plan to argue that the involvement of his prior lawyers in the matter showed that he lacked criminal intent, they added.

Trump, seeking to regain the presidency this year, is accused in the case of falsifying business records to cover up his reimbursement of former lawyer Michael Cohen for his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she has said she had with Trump a decade earlier.

He has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, and denies the encounter with Daniels. The case was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

In the newly released filing dated March 11, Trump's lawyers said they would ask Cohen, expected to be a key prosecution witness, about Trump's awareness of his lawyers' involvement in the actions at issue in the case.

Formally invoking an advice-of-counsel defense would have required Trump to prove that he fully disclosed all relevant facts to his lawyers, and relied on their advice in good faith. It also would have required him to turn over communications with those lawyers, which are normally shielded by privilege.

This is the first of the four criminal cases Trump that faces to reach trial. Trump is the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

Trump also has pleaded not guilty in the other three cases, which stem from efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office in 2021.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)