02:36 - Source: CNN
We'll soon know if Trump will be on trial for hush money payments to porn star
New York CNN  — 

A date for Donald Trump’s first criminal trial has been set in the former president’s New York criminal hush money case.

With Trump in attendance at the hearing in downtown Manhattan, New York state Judge Juan Merchan confirmed that the former president’s trial will begin on March 25, as originally scheduled, on charges that Trump falsified business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.

The decision helps solidify the former president’s legal calendar that is filling up at the same time that his 2024 campaign is closing in on the Republican nomination for president.

The date of the New York trial had been in limbo in part because Trump’s federal trial in Washington, DC, on election subversion charges had initially been scheduled for March, too, but that is now on hold while Trump is attempting have the charges dismissed on claims of presidential immunity. He has asked the Supreme Court to step in, which could further delay the federal trial.

That would likely make the New York hush money case the first of Trump’s election-year trials.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was the first to charge Trump last year, accusing him in a 34-count indictment of falsifying business records as part of a cover up to conceal hush money payments before the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with Trump. Trump denies the affair and has pleaded not guilty.

Here’s what to know heading into Thursday’s hearing:

Trump sought to dismiss the case or various charges

Merchan on Thursday rejected Trump’s long-shot motion to dismiss the entire case. Arguments that will likely be at the crux of the former president’s trial defense may also be ruled on.

Trump and his lawyers have accused Bragg of resurrecting a “zombie” case six years too late to serve a political agenda to interfere with Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.

Bragg has also endured negative speculation from critics who argue the case is thin and question whether it passes legal muster.

Prosecutors allege Trump conspired with his former personal attorney Michael Cohen in a scheme to buy Daniels’ silence ahead of the 2016 election and falsified business records to hide reimbursements checks to Cohen who facilitated the $130,00 payment to Daniels. They allege Trump was aware of falsified invoices, reimbursement checks to Cohen and how those reimbursements were recorded in an attempt to commit or conceal several crimes, including election law, tax laws and the falsification of other business records.

Trump’s lawyers have said he paid Cohen through his personal accounts — not involving business records.

If he doesn’t toss the entire case, Trump lawyers have said Merchan should at least dismiss charges they argue are multiplicitous, because he currently faces more than one count for each of the 11 reimbursement payments to Cohen.

The parties may also argue Thursday over who Trump can call in his defense case at trial, including campaign finance experts.

Trump’s attorneys have also asked Merchan to consider holding a hearing over alleged grand jury leaks — the typically secretive judicial process was widely reported in national news ahead of the indictment.

They also want the judge to compel more specific information from prosecutors about their evidence relating to Trump’s alleged intent to defraud. Trump’s lawyers have said the grand jury didn’t hear evidence that the former president knew about the scheme or intended to defraud anyone.

Prosecutors told the judge the six-year delay was “justified” since there was an ongoing related federal investigation and Trump fought a subpoena for his records, which landed the case before the US Supreme Court.

How we got here: The years-long investigation into Trump

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office officially launched its investigation into the alleged hush-money schemes under the previous DA, Cy Vance, in August 2018, the same day Cohen pleaded guilty to charges related to the Daniels payments across the street in a Manhattan federal courtroom.

Under Vance, prosecutors shifted their investigation to focus on the Trump Organization’s finances and away from the repayment scheme.

Bragg, who took office in January 2022, has accused Trump of leaning on his political power to avoid criminal responsibility for years and campaigned on a promise to prosecute the former president.

Justin Lane/Pool/Reuters
Former President Donald Trump leaves the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York after a jury found him guilty of all 34 felony counts in his hush money trial on Thursday, May 30.
Julian Rigg/CNN
A news board displaying Trump's conviction is seen at Fox News in New York on May 30.
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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg stands with members of his staff at a news conference held following Trump's conviction. "Our job is to follow the facts and the law without fear or favor, and that's exactly what we did here," Bragg said, adding that while there are "many voices out there, the only voice that matters is the voice of the jury."
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Trump points as he arrives back at Trump Tower in New York after his conviction.
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Bystanders try to catch a glimpse of Trump as he enters Trump Tower in New York after his conviction.
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People eat and drink while CNN's coverage of the trial plays in the background at Hawk 'n' Dove in Washington, DC.
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Trump's son Eric, seen fourth from the right with his fingers interlocked, listens as his dad speaks to the media after the verdict.
Julia Nikhinson/Pool/AP
Notes are seen under Trump's hands as he awaits court proceedings on Tuesday, May 28.
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Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, leaves his apartment building in New York on his way to court on May 13. Cohen testified that Trump directed him to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
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Daniels leaves Manhattan Criminal Court after testifying on May 9.
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Trump sits in the courtroom during his trial on April 22.
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New York police officers inspect a backpack after a man lit himself on fire in a park outside the courthouse in Manhattan on April 19.
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Trump arrives at court with his legal team ahead of the start of jury selection on April 15.
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Demonstrators protest outside of the courthouse on April 15.
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Margo Martin, Trump's deputy director of communications, arrives at the courthouse in New York on April 15.
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Trump appears with his lawyer Susan Necheles for a pre-trial hearing on March 25.
Mary Altaffer/AP
Trump speaks before entering the courtroom on February 15. "This is not a crime," he told reporters in the courthouse hallway. He added that he'd rather spend his time campaigning than in courtrooms: "We want delays, obviously I'm running for election."
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Trump arrives to deliver remarks at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on April 4, 2023. "The only crime that I have committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it," he said.
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Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a news conference on April 4, 2023. He said "the evidence will show" Trump made false statements "to cover up crimes relating to the 2016 election."
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Barricades are dismantled after Trump left the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on April 4, 2023.
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Trump attorney Todd Blanche, center, leaves the courthouse on April 4, 2023.
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Trump sits in a Manhattan courtroom with his defense team on April 4, 2023. He pleaded not guilty that day.
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A copy of the unsealed indictment is displayed on April 4, 2023. Trump was charged with 34 felony counts.
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Trump walks through the courthouse on April 4, 2023.
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Trump's motorcade drives to the courthouse on April 4, 2023.
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Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York before heading to the courthouse on April 4, 2023.
Timothy Fadek/Redux for CNN
US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene appears at a rally outside the courthouse on April 4, 2023. When she arrived, Greene told CNN that she was there "to be with the people that have come to peacefully protest." The Republican firebrand from Georgia spoke on a bullhorn for a brief time before departing.
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Members of the media gather outside the courthouse on April 4, 2023.
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A protester holds a sign outside Trump Tower on April 4, 2023.
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Lights are on at Trump Tower, where Trump spent the night, on April 3, 2023.
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Trump arrives at Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
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Trump's plane lands at New York's LaGuardia Airport on April 3, 2023.
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A television news reporter is seen outside Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
Stephen Voss for CNN
New York police officers stand near Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
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A man walks past the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on April 3, 2023.
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Dan Ray waves an American flag on April 3, 2023, as a plane carrying Trump takes off from the Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.
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A doorman stands outside of Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
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Police officers view crowds from Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
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Trump supporters cheer as his motorcade passes by in West Palm Beach, Florida, on April 3, 2023.
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News crews broadcast near Trump Tower on April 3, 2023.
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A woman wears a choker necklace that reads "Trump Girl" outside Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort on April 2, 2023.
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News of Trump's indictment is seen on the front page of The New York Times on March 31, 2023.
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Reporters and demonstrators are posted outside Trump Tower after news broke of Trump's indictment on March 30, 2023.
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Mary Kelley waves a Trump flag near the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate after he was indicted on March 30, 2023.
Dave Sanders/The New York Times/Redux
Bragg leaves the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse after the grand jury indicted Trump on March 30, 2023. The Manhattan district attorney had remained tight-lipped on the details of the Trump probe, which he inherited from his predecessor, Cy Vance, who began the investigation when Trump was still in the White House.
Amanda Perobelli/Reuters
A person places signs on the ground as anti-Trump protesters gathered outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on March 27, 2023.
Evan Vucci/AP
Trump speaks with reporters on his plane after he held a campaign rally in Waco, Texas, on March 25, 2023.
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Trump leaves after speaking at his rally in Waco on March 25, 2023. Trump, who is running for president again, railed against what he called "prosecutorial misconduct" and denied any wrongdoing amid investigations in New York, Georgia and Washington, DC.
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A supporter high-fives a poster at the site of Trump's rally in Waco on March 25, 2023.
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Trump's Mar-a-Lago home is seen in Palm Beach on March 23, 2023.
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Prosecutors Matt Colangelo, left, and Susan Hoffinger, center, walk outside the Manhattan Criminal Courthouse on March 22, 2023.
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An employee is seen behind the counter at the Trump Tower gift shop in New York on March 21, 2023.
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Robert Costello, an attorney who has previously represented Trump allies such as Steve Bannon and Rudy Giuliani, testified before the grand jury in New York for nearly three hours on March 20, 2023, after appearing at the request of the former president's legal team. Costello was expected to offer evidence that contradicted testimony provided by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admitted to paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 election to stop her from going public about an alleged affair with the former president. Trump has denied the affair.
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Media and protesters are seen outside Bragg's office in New York on March 20, 2023. A couple of days earlier, Trump said in a social media post that he expected to be arrested within days.
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Evelyn Knapp walks past a Trump flag that his supporters were flying near his Mar-a-Lago home on March 20, 2023.
Jeenah Moon/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republican Club, speaks to members of the media on March 20, 2023, a couple of days after Trump said he expected to be arrested. "We are here to show that there is support for President Trump in the bluest area in the country, here in Manhattan," Wax said, according to Politico.
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Cohen leaves a Manhattan courthouse after testifying before the grand jury on March 13, 2023. "My goal is to tell the truth," Cohen told reporters before testifying. "My goal is to allow Alvin Bragg and his team to do what they need to do. I'm just here to answer the questions."
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Trump boards his airplane before flying to Iowa to campaign on March 13, 2023.

A grand jury was eventually green-lit to hear the hush money case in December 2022, days before a jury in another state criminal trial convicted the Trump Organization on 17 counts related to tax fraud that slapped Trump’s company with $1.6 million in fines. The grand jury empaneled on January 23, 2023, ultimately returned the 34-count indictment in this case on March 30.

If convicted on the 34 identical counts of falsifying business records, which are a class E felony, Trump could face up to 4 years in prison. But as a first-time offender, he would unlikely be sentenced to prison time. It would make him a convicted felon regardless of his sentence.

As the conviction would be on state charges, Trump would not be able to pardon himself if reelected president.

Trump’s first trial will begin next month as the primaries continue

Merchan set the initial March 25 trial date last year, but he said they could “make any necessary” changes if there are any “actual conflicts” – a nod to the federal cases brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

Indeed, district Judge Tanya Chutkan initially set a March 4 trial date for Trump’s federal election subversion trial in Washington, DC, which would have likely pushed back the New York trial. Now that trial is on hold while Trump’s immunity claims play out.

Complicating the schedule further is the uncertainty of time for Trump’s appeal: The Supreme Court could decline to hear the case, putting the trial back in Chutkan’s hands to begin relatively quickly. But if the high court does take up Trump’s appeal, that trial is likely on hold for weeks, if not months, while the presidential immunity issue is decided.

The New York case in many ways fell into the background last year following Trump’s arraignment last spring. Smith brought charges against Trump for his alleged mishandling of classified documents last June and again for alleged election subversion in August, and then Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis charged Trump later that month in a sprawling racketeering case involving Trump and 18 co-defendants.

But now the New York trial is primed to be the first where a jury will decide Trump’s guilt or innocence.

Now that the March 25 date remains in effect, it will take place as Trump is collecting delegates in presidential primaries for the Republican nomination and preparing for a potential general election rematch against President Joe Biden.

It’s not clear yet whether Trump would be required to attend every day of the trial or if he can ask not to appear.

His attendance for Thursday’s hearing was waived but he chose to attend, rather than going to Georgia to watch a hearing seeking to disqualify Willis from his Georgia case.

Trump is only an observer at this hearing

Trump on Thursday is sitting in his fourth different courtroom this year, including three for separate cases in New York.

He attended closing arguments last month in his New York civil fraud trial before Judge Arthur Engoron – in which the judge is expected to rule on Friday – as well as testified and attended multiple days at the E. Jean Carroll defamation case, where a jury found Trump liable for $83.3 million in damages.

Trump also sat in for oral arguments at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals on his immunity claims in January, though he did not speak or have a role in that hearing.

In both prior New York cases, Trump found ways to make his presence felt in the courtroom, both on the witness stand and from the defendant’s table.

In the defamation case, district Judge Lewis Kaplan restricted what Trump could testify to before the jury, and at one point he warned Trump that he could be removed from the courtroom if he kept up his audible commentary during Carroll’s testimony.

And in the New York civil trial, Trump’s time on the witness stand in November was a spectacle, where the former president used the opportunity to bash the trial and the charges brought by the New York attorney general. During closing arguments last month, Engoron told Trump’s lawyer he could not speak as part of the defense case – but Trump found a way to deliver a five-minute monologue, anyway.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his appearance, Trump — who has similarly used other court proceedings to generate publicity for his campaign — said the case against him is politically motivated and amounts to “election interference.”

“This is just a way of hurting me in the election because I’m leading by a lot,” Trump said.