Trump’s hush money case and fraud trial collide in New York this week

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Two judges in separate courtrooms just minutes down the street from one another could deal serious blows to Donald Trump, his business and his campaign schedule this week.

On Thursday, a judge in Manhattan criminal court will preside over a hearing that could set a course for the former president’s trial on charges stemming from hush-money payments to an adult film star during his 2016 campaign.

The judge overseeing a separate civil fraud trial that could imperil his family business and brand-building empire is also imminently expected to issue a final judgment in that case, with potentially tens of millions of dollars in sanctions and the end of his real estate career in New York at stake.

A court official told The Independent that a decision in that case would be due by mid-February. People familiar with the matter suggested to The New York Times that a decision would come one day after Mr Trump’s criminal court date.

The former president, meanwhile, likely won’t be in New York at all on Thursday. He’s reportedly planning to visit Atlanta to watch a hearing on misconduct allegations against the prosecutor leading a sprawling criminal case against him in Georgia – accusations that Mr Trump and his allies amplified in an effort to undermine the cases against him.

Mr Trump has relied on the growing stack of cases and court dates on his calendar – colliding with a primary election season as he seeks the Republican Party’s presidential nomination – to cast himself as a victim of “election interference” and political persecution, while his lawyers deny wrongdoing or attempt to claim “immunity” for anything he did as president.

It’s unlikely that a federal election conspiracy case against him will resume on 4 March, as initially penciled in, while his repeatedly-rejected “immunity” defence heads to the US Supreme Court.

If the New York criminal court date sticks, he is almost certain to stand trial for the first time as a criminal defendant in his hometown.

Judge Juan Merchan tentatively scheduled that trial to begin on 25 March.

Donald Trump appears at his civil fraud trial in New York City on 11 January (REUTERS)
Donald Trump appears at his civil fraud trial in New York City on 11 January (REUTERS)

Mr Trump has already faced two massive civil trials in Manhattan this year. A federal jury determined he owes E Jean Carroll more than $83m for repeatedly defaming her after denying that he sexually abused her in the 1990s.

The civil fraud case targeting Mr Trump, his two adult sons and their chief business associates also came to a close last month after 11 weeks of witness testimony. State Attorney General Letitia James, whose blockbuster lawsuit sparked the trial in New York County Superior Court on Centre Street, is seeking $370m in so-called “ill-gotten gains” and an order that would block the former president from the state’s real estate industry for life.

Mr Trump started his week in Florida, where he attended closed-door hearings on Monday to review sensitive materials in a federal case stemming from his alleged criminal mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago.

The criminal case in Manhattan has largely remained quiet compared to months of court filings and hearings in the three other criminal cases against him, and a mountain of litigation threatening his business and potential disqualification from 2024 ballots – a challenge that is now at the US Supreme Court.

The New York case marked the first set of criminal charges against him in a year full of them.

In April, a grand jury under Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg charged the former president with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with repayments to his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged a hush-money scheme to prevent the release of potentially damaging stories about Mr Trump and his affairs.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Trump, Mr Cohen and David Pecker, the former owner of the National Enquirer, allegedly worked in concert to “identify, purchase, and bury negative information” about then-candidate Trump to boost his electoral prospects,” according to prosecutors.

The alleged payments were used to cover up sex scandals involving adult film star Stormy Daniels as part of a “conspiracy to undermine the integrity of the 2016 election,” according to prosecutors.

On Thursday, Judge Merchan is expected to rule on Mr Trump’s motion to dismiss the case altogether, after which he is likely to arrange a trial date.

The court has reportedly relied on movements from the federal election conspiracy case – arguably the most serious against the former president – before firming up a timetable, and Mr Bragg has suggested he would not stand in the way of that trial moving forward first.

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg speaks to reporters on 8 February (Getty Images)
Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg speaks to reporters on 8 February (Getty Images)

Hours after that hearing, Mr Trump is expected to face a damning final decision in the fraud case, which his attorneys are likely to immediately appeal.

Judge Engoron’s pretrial ruling found Mr Trump and his co-defendants liable for fraud, leaving a trial to determine what, if any, sanctions they should face.

The judge initially planned to issue his final decision by the end of January, but a series of late-breaking developments in the case surrounding one of the defendants’ potential perjury during his testimony appears to have thrown that schedule off track.

Last month, a court-appointed monitor who was tapped to oversee his businesses reported financial disclosures that are “either incomplete, present results inconsistently,” or “contain errors.”

One of those findings, according to her report, appears to suggest that the former president evaded taxes on millions of dollars in income by hiding money in fake loan transactions.

Over the last two weeks, Judge Engoron has asked the parties for “anything” they can tell him about an alleged plea deal being arranged between New York City prosecutors and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg on perjury charges connected to his testimony in the fraud trial.

If Weisselberg is now “admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom at this trial,” the judge wants to know about it, he wrote to attorneys this month. “I do not want to ignore anything in a case of this magnitude.”