Judge Sets Trump NY Criminal Trial For April 15, Rejecting Bid For More Delay

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 25: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a pre-trial hearing in a hush money case in criminal court on March 25, 2024 in New York City. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsify... NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 25: Former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a pre-trial hearing in a hush money case in criminal court on March 25, 2024 in New York City. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records last year, which prosecutors say was an effort to hide a potential sex scandal, both before and after the 2016 election. Judge Juan Merchan is expected to set a new start date for the trial after it was delayed following the disclosure of new documents in the case. (Photo by Curtis Means-Pool/Getty Images) MORE LESS
Start your day with TPM.
Sign up for the Morning Memo newsletter

For all of the huffing and puffing and loud attempts to push his Manhattan criminal trial back, Donald Trump only got a few weeks of what he wanted.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan on Monday set jury selection in Trump’s criminal trial to begin on April 15, pushing it back from its initial March 25 start date. Merchan issued his order from the bench, and added that a written ruling would be forthcoming.

Merchan rejected a series of extremely strenuous but rather familiar arguments from Trump and his lead attorney, Todd Blanche: prosecutors had been extremely unfair to him. They did so, Trump argued, by failing to secure evidence from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and by interfering and trying to block supposedly exonerating evidence from making it to Trump’s legal team. The judge expressed a high level of skepticism about all of those arguments.

The drama around this all unfolded over the past several weeks, after prosecutors with the Manhattan DA’s Office disclosed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had begun to provide parties to the case with tens of thousands of documents.

Trump had used this to try to impress upon Merchan that the volume of records itself was a cause for delay, and potentially reason to dismiss the case entirely. But Merchan was unmoved.

Throughout the hearing, Merchan focused on Blanche, grilling him about several arguments he had made in trying to delay the case. Among other things, Blanche had contended not only that prosecutors had committed misconduct in supposedly withholding evidence from the defense, but that they had enlisted Merchan by making him “complicit in this unethical strategy.”

Merchan had asked for briefing to establish the timeline: when did the parties first reach out to Manhattan federal prosecutors for evidence? What communications did state prosecutors have with the Manhattan feds? When did Trump first start asking about evidence?

As Merchan asked Blanche these questions, the judge began to reveal his view of the case: that there was never any evidence to suggest that prosecutors had shirked their obligations to provide Trump with information helpful to his defense.

“The People went so far above and beyond what they were required to do that it’s odd that we’re even here,” he remarked at one point.

Trump sat through the hearing, staring alternately at Merchan, the prosecutors, or his own attorney. At times, he passed notes to Blanche; at others, he appeared to consult verbally with attorney Susan Necheles, seated to his left. As Merchan announced that he was rejecting Trump’s arguments, the former President looked down at his hand, seemingly uninterested.

The former President’s argument for further delay hinged on an extremely unorthodox view of different parties’ obligations during the critical phase of a criminal case: after indictment, but before trial. During this period, the defense — and prosecutors — can continue to investigate, and are obligated to disclose what they have gathered to the other side. This rule is particularly sensitive and important when prosecutors have obtained evidence which might be viewed as helpful to the defense.

Blanche had essentially argued that Manhattan DA prosecutors had failed to comply with that obligation not by failing to share evidence with Trump’s attorneys, but by failing to request information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. After Trump himself submitted requests for evidence to the Manhattan feds in January, federal prosecutors alerted the Manhattan DA’s office as a courtesy.

Blanche tried to portray those communications as evidence of the Manhattan DA attempting to interfere and withhold helpful evidence from Trump. Merchan remained skeptical, asking Blanche at one point to confirm that he himself had been a former Southern District of New York federal prosecutor.

“So you know that the defense has just as much, the same ability as the prosecution to obtain these documents?” Merchan intoned. “You could have very easily in June or July done exactly what you did in January.”

Per Blanche’s own statements, made seemingly for effect at the hearing’s start, Trump’s defense is continuing to file last-minute discovery requests. Blanche remarked early on that the defense had filed another request to the Southern District of New York, this time for information relating to Stormy Daniels.

It’s a statement which illustrates the lengths to which Trump’s attorneys have gone to delay the case. The entire prosecution hinges on Stormy Daniels, the adult film star, and how Trump allegedly moved to buy her silence in the days and weeks before the 2016 election. She’s a central figure.

But Blanche said that he’s only first asked SDNY for information about Daniels last week, before trying to use that fact as a bludgeon with which to delay the case.

To Merchan, it was a subtle way of suggesting that state prosecutors should be held to account for the behavior both of Trump and of Manhattan federal prosecutors. He asked Blanche at one point whether he had case law suggesting that the “U.S. Attorney’s Office is under the direction of the prosecuting state attorney” in discovery questions.

“That you don’t have a case right now is really disconcerting,” he said. “Because the allegations that the defense makes in all your papers about the People’s misconduct is incredibly serious.”

After Merchan’s decision, what’s left is three weeks of preparation before jury selection begins. The jurors’ identities will be tightly guarded, per an earlier order from Merchan.

Per another order, parties now need permission from the judge before filing new pretrial motions. Blanche received permission for one such filing as the Monday hearing drew to a close: a motion to dismiss, this time based on pretrial publicity around the case.

It led to a moment of argument over who was at fault for the publicity: prosecutors, as Blanche suggested, or the man sitting in the courtroom — Trump.

Merchan allowed the motion to be filed, giving prosecutors one week to reply. The trial date was not delayed.

Trump said in remarks after the hearing that he planned to appeal, and reiterated the same kind of huffing and puffing which failed to blow the house down: the case was “election interference” and “voter intimidation”; the DA should have brought the case earlier, he claimed, but instead timed it to damage him during the election.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: