Trump hush money judge scolds ex-president’s attorneys for delay tactics: ‘It’s odd we’re even here’

Attorneys for Donald Trump are failing to convince a judge that the Manhattan District Attorney’s office mishandled potential evidence in the former president’s criminal case stemming from an alleged hush money scheme to bury embarrassing stories of his affairs.

The former president arrived inside a 14th floor criminal courtroom in Manhattan on Monday for yet another pretrial hearing in the case – what was supposed to be the first day of jury selection for the first-ever criminal trial against a president.

Instead, New York Justice Juan Merchan grew increasingly frustrated by his attorneys’ misconduct allegations against the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for the production of thousands of pages of documents surrounding Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former attorney and a key witness in the case.

“What I’m seeing is, to me, what has become a pattern,” the judge told Mr Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche before a morning break.

“I hear certain information, I see certain information … Your interpretation of that is really different from my interpretation,” he added. “It’s frankly been going on for months. You just heard one set of facts and interpreted that as the People not doing anything … It’s really… it’s odd that we’re even here.”

Earlier, the judge scolded Mr Blanche for apparently failing to cite any prior cases to explain how, exactly, the district attorney’s office failed its discovery obligations under state law.

“If you don’t have a case right now it is really disconcerting,” he said. “The allegation that the defence makes in all of your papers about the People’s misconduct is incredibly serious. Unbelievably serious. You are literally accusing the Manhattan DA’s office and the people prosecuting this case, and trying to make me complicit in it. And you don’t have a single cite to support that position?”

Jury selection was initially set to begin on 25 March, but Judge Merchan agreed to delay the proceedings after attorneys for both parties wanted to review thousands of documents from federal prosecutors and the US Attorney’s Office.

The judge agreed to hold a hearing to get to the bottom of “who, if anyone” is responsible for delays in that document production, and “what sanctions if any are appropriate.”

Earlier this month, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said the agency produced thousands of pages of records related to a separate but parallel federal investigation into Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance charges stemming from the alleged scheme.

Among the charges against him, Cohen pleaded guilty to making payments to women who alleged affairs with Mr Trump.

But Mr Bragg’s office urged the judge against further delaying the start of a trial, after finding that fewer than 300 of 170,000 documents recently provided by federal prosecutors were relevant to Mr Trump’s defence.

Mr Bragg’s office also called Mr Trump’s focus on the documents a “red herring” and another delay tactic.

Last year, in the first criminal indictment against him, a grand jury charged the former president with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with repayments to his then-lawyer, who arranged a hush-money scheme to prevent the release of potentially compromising stories about Mr Trump and his affairs.

Prosecutors are expected to rely on Cohen’s testimony that Mr Trump authorised his business to falsely file payments as legal expenses, part of an alleged effort to quash stories that could interfere with then-candidate Trump’s campaign, according to prosecutors.

“We’re not doing our jobs if we’re not independently looking at new material,” Mr Blanche told the court on Monday, after the judge repeatedly asked the defence for the number of new documents deemed important to their case.

Mr Blanche said “tens of thousands.”

“I just want to be accurate. And the reality is every document is important,” he said. “We still have to have a process in place to look at the bank records, to look at the internal correspondence.”

This is a developing story

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