Trump’s First Criminal Trial Set to Begin on March 25 in New York

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A New York judge has cleared the way for Donald Trump to stand trial in late March for allegations he violated election laws by covering up hush money payments to improve his chances in the 2016 election.

Judge Juan Merchan set jury selection to start on March 25, setting up the first criminal trial of a former President in U.S. history and another moment in which Trump will test the limits of the American judicial system. If convicted, Trump could face up to four years in prison.

Merchan rejected motions from Trump's defense team that the case should be thrown out for allegedly being politically motivated and based on faulty legal grounds. The judge also rebuffed efforts by Trump's team to delay the proceedings because of the workload demands of other criminal charges Trump faces and Trump's campaign schedule.

“We are pleased that the Court denied the defense’s motion to dismiss. We look forward to presenting our case in court,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a statement.

Bragg's case hinges on the timing of Trump’s efforts to cover up a sex scandal weeks before the 2016 election. Trump is charged with 34 counts of faking business records to hide payments to actress Stormy Daniels intended to stop her from publicly describing a sexual encounter. Bragg has argued that the charges should be bumped up to felonies from misdemeanors because the payments were covering up a federal crime: election interference

The core of the case “is not money for sex,” Bragg said in a Dec. 22 interview on WNYC New York Public Radio. “We would say it's about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up,” he said.

Even before the hearing, Bragg's office was operating under the assumption that the case would move to jury selection on March 25. The prosecution believes it could present its case in three to four weeks. Merchan said on Thursday that the trial could last for six weeks, setting up a possible verdict in May.

Trump is facing charges in four separate trials around the country, and is pushing to delay all of them beyond November’s election. As the New York case moved forward, the other three criminal cases—two in federal court and one out of Georgia—have hit delays and potential roadblocks.

Trump's legal team on Thursday pointed out that having jury selection in the New York case start in late March would mean Trump would be on trial during a crush of Republican primary contests expected to cement his bid to be the party's nominee for President.

Trump has repeatedly chosen to attend court proceedings he wasn't required to attend, often holding press conferences with reporters outside the courtrooms. He’s used those appearances to amplify both his campaign messages and his allegation that all of the charges he faces are politically motivated.

After Thursday's hearing, Trump told reporters in the courthouse hallway that he wants the trials delayed to free him up to travel for his campaign. “We want delays. Obviously I’m running for election. How can you run for election if you’re sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?" Trump said, according to the Associated Press.

While Trump was attending the New York hearing, a judge in Atlanta heard arguments on whether Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis should be removed from the case charging Trump with trying to overturn Georgia's election results. Willis faces allegations that she had an inappropriate personal relationship with a prosecutor on the case. That case, which was slated to begin in August, could end up getting pushed off past the November election as the court decides how to proceed.

Trump’s also facing federal charges for encouraging a violent mob to pressure Congress to reverse Joe Biden’s electoral victory on Jan. 6, 2021. That case, led by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, was scheduled to go to trial on March 4, but has been delayed as Trump presses the Supreme Court to back his argument that, as a former President, he should be immune from prosecution for actions he took while in office.

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