Trump’s hush money case set for critical hearing over document dump

The judge overseeing former President Trump’s hush money case will hold a consequential hearing Monday to sort out who is to blame for a curveball that delayed the trial at the last minute.

Trump’s trial had been widely expected to begin the same day as the hearing until federal prosecutors this month began turning over what would become more than 100,000 pages of records. The trial is now delayed until at least mid-April.

On Monday, the parties are set to battle in a New York courtroom over whether the records require another delay — or even sanctions — as Judge Juan Merchan attempts to ascertain why they weren’t turned over earlier.

“It’s like ‘I Love Lucy.’ ‘Lucy, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do!’” said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a former Manhattan chief assistant district attorney.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) charged Trump last year with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to reimbursements to his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, who paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 just before the 2016 election to stay quiet about an alleged affair with Trump.

Trump, who denies the affair but has acknowledged the reimbursements, pleaded not guilty.

The former president has repeatedly sought delays in all four of his criminal cases so he can first try to retake the White House and then either end or stall his prosecutions. But legal experts have widely agreed the hush money case is the most likely of Trump’s indictments to get to trial before November.

Once the judge affirmed the March 25 trial date at a hearing last month, the schedule appeared to be set in stone. But things soon changed.

This month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York turned over 119,000 pages of records, court filings show. The office has declined to comment.

The parties are now trading blame for why the documents are only coming to light now. Trump’s lawyers have gone as far to allege Bragg didn’t meet their discovery obligations, demanding the judge toss the entire indictment or impose other sanctions as a result.

“It’s not much ado about nothing. He definitely had to delay the trial,” said Catherine Christian, a former Manhattan special assistant district attorney.

“But the indictment is not going to be dismissed,” she added. “No witness is going to be precluded. No attorneys are going to be sanctioned. But it’s legitimate that this trial should not have started on Monday.”

The back-and-forth has become particularly heated, with both sides accusing the other of making up facts.

The state of New York has “made numerous untimely and inexplicably delayed disclosures, and actively obstructed efforts by President Trump to obtain discoverable materials from the [U.S. Attorney’s Office], Cohen, and Cohen’s publishers, among others. This misconduct weighs in favor of a severe remedy,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in court papers.

Bragg’s office, meanwhile, has claimed they unsuccessfully sought the documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office months ago, pinning the blame on Trump and telling the judge they complied with their obligations.

Prosecutors wrote in court papers last week, “Enough is enough. These tactics by defendant and defense counsel should be stopped.”

Christian, a former special assistant district attorney, said Bragg’s office likely did as they should have.

“The prosecutors don’t have to get a subpoena,” said Christian. “But they have to diligently and make a good faith effort to obtain it, which, if you believe the facts as outlined by the DA’s office here, they did that.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, urged the judge to not issue any additional delays and schedule the trial for April 15.

“Defendant has taken every possible step to evade accountability in this case for more than a year,” Bragg’s office wrote in court filings.

“He sought to deter the grand jury from considering the charges by promising ‘death and destruction’ if indicted. He sought to intimidate the District Attorney and this Office by posting a photo of himself wielding a baseball bat at the back of the District Attorney’s head. Defense counsel has likewise stretched the boundaries of zealous advocacy in this case,” the filing continued.

Court records indicate the new documents relate to the federal criminal case of Cohen, Trump’s ex-fixer who made the hush money payment at the center of the case. Cohen has since turned against his former boss and is expected to be Bragg’s star trial witness.

Trump’s lawyers highlighted Cohen’s guilty plea in that case as they sought to block him from testifying, portraying him as a liar who would mislead the jury.

It remains unclear whether the documents contain any material Trump could use to his advantage, or how many are even new. Prosecutors last week said their review was ongoing, but they had “so far” identified fewer than 270 relevant documents not previously disclosed to Trump.

“God help us all, frankly, if there’s Brady material in there,” said Agnifilo, referring to prosecutors’ constitutional obligation to hand over favorable material to the defendant.

“If there’s some kind of exculpatory information that they knowingly withheld — I doubt it. But, I’m just thinking out loud what the possibilities are. That has the potential of derailing this even further.”

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