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Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial

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Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial
News

News

Manhattan DA's office won't be punished for document dump that delayed start of Trump criminal trial

2024-05-24 08:52 Last Updated At:09:02

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors won't be penalized for a last-minute document dump that caused former President Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial to start later than scheduled, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Juan M. Merchan rejected the defense’s request that prosecutors be sanctioned for a deluge of nearly 200,000 pages of evidence just weeks before the trial‘s scheduled start. The documents were from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Merchan agreed to delay the start of the trial from March 25 to April 15 to allow the former president’s lawyers to review the material. But at a hearing in March, he rejected their claim that the case had been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct, and denied their bid to delay the case longer, throw it out entirely or bar key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels from testifying.

In a written ruling issued Thursday, Merchan reiterated that Trump didn't suffer any prejudice from the document dump because he and his lawyers were “given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material.”

Merchan said he reached the conclusion after reviewing written submissions by both sides, including timelines they provided to him chronicling the disclosure of evidence, as well arguments and clarifications that were made at the March 25 hearing on the issue.

The Manhattan district attorney's office declined comment on the ruling. A message seeking comment was left with Trump’s lawyers.

After testimony from 22 witnesses over the last month, including Cohen and Daniels, the first criminal trial of a former president is slated to move to closing arguments next Tuesday, with jury deliberations expected to follow as early as Wednesday.

Trump’s lawyers had accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office of intentionally failing to pursue evidence from the 2018 federal investigation, which sent Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen to prison.

They contended prosecutors working under Bragg, a Democrat, did so to gain an unfair advantage in the case and harm Trump’s election chances. Cohen, now a vocal Trump critic, was a key prosecution witness against his ex-boss.

At the March 25 hearing, Merchan said the DA’s office had no duty to collect evidence from the federal investigation, nor was the U.S. attorney’s office required to volunteer the documents. What transpired was a “far cry” from Manhattan prosecutors “injecting themselves in the process and vehemently and aggressively trying to obstruct your ability to get documentation,” the judge said.

“It’s just not what happened,” Merchan said.

The DA’s office denied wrongdoing and blamed Trump’s lawyers for waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the records from the U.S. attorney’s office — a mere nine weeks before the trial was originally supposed to start. Merchan told defense lawyers they should have acted sooner if they believed they didn’t have all the records they wanted.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records by falsely logging payments to Cohen, then his personal lawyer, as legal fees in his company’s books when they were reimbursements for a $130,000 hush money payment he made to Daniels. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump did it as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what he says were false stories of extramarital sex.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks. Trump denies having sex with Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payoff. He said Trump directed him to arrange it, and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but Trump was never charged.

In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump's defense attorney Emil Bove, left, and assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, argue various points on the jury charge to Judge Juan Merchan, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Manhattan criminal court in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

In this courtroom sketch, former President Donald Trump's defense attorney Emil Bove, left, and assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo, right, argue various points on the jury charge to Judge Juan Merchan, Tuesday, May 21, 2024, in Manhattan criminal court in New York. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — Lawyers for Donald Trump on Tuesday asked the judge presiding over his classified documents case to prevent prosecutors from using as evidence boxes of records seized during an FBI search of his Florida estate.

The arguments marked the conclusion of a three-day hearing in which prosecutors and defense lawyers have sparred over topics ranging from the legality of the appointment of special counsel Jack Smith, whose team brought the case, to whether the Republican former president should be barred from making comments that could pose a risk to the safety of FBI agents involved in the investigation.

Trump faces dozens of felony counts accusing him of illegally hoarding classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach and obstructing government efforts to get them back. He has pleaded not guilty.

At issue Tuesday was a defense request to suppress the boxes of records that were taken from Mar-a-Lago during the Aug. 8, 2022, FBI search. Defense lawyers contend that the application that the Justice Department submitted to a judge to obtain a warrant to search the property omitted key facts and provided misleading information, in part because it did not include details of internal Justice Department debate about whether the search of the property was an appropriate step.

One of Trump's lawyers, Emil Bove, also told the judge that the warrant permitted an overly expansive search of the sprawling estate, allowing for Trump's personal papers to be seized in addition to documents with classified markings. He asked for what's known in the law as a Franks hearing to further argue that the warrant application was defective and that the resulting evidence should be suppressed,

“The overbreadth of that search violated President Trump's rights,” Bove said.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee whose handling of the case has generated intense scrutiny, did not immediately rule but expressed repeated skepticism of his lawyers' arguments and signaled that she was not inclined side with them.

Prosecutor David Harbach said that there was nothing misleading about the warrant application and that none of the defense objections had any bearing on whether or not the investigators who applied for the warrant had identified probable cause that a crime had occurred, the legal standard.

He suggested that it was reasonable for agents to have conducted a broad search of the property given the unconventional locations, including a restroom, where records were kept.

“There's nothing about it that remotely even touches on the whether there was probable cause in this case,” Harbach said.

On Monday, Cannon appeared deeply skeptical of a prosecution request to make as a condition of Trump's freedom pending trial a requirement that he avoid comments that might pose a risk to law enforcement officials involved in the case. The judge had a tense exchange with Harbach during those arguments, telling him at one point that she didn't appreciate his tone. He later apologized.

Tuesday's hearing ended on another fractious note when Harbach attempted to complain to the judge about a defense strategy that he said was resulting in needless delays, saying Trump's attorneys had made an “attempt to hijack the hearing” with baseless claims.

That's a sensitive subject given that Cannon's willingness to entertain assorted Trump team motions and her plodding pace in issuing rulings has contributed to a delay that has made a trial — which had been scheduled to begin last month before being indefinitely postponed — before the November presidential election a virtual impossibility.

“There's no hijacking going on,” she replied tersely.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, June 22, 2024, at Temple University in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

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