Trump Requests Postponement of New York Trial Over “Hush Money” as Supreme Court Considers Presidential Immunity

In a strategic move just two weeks shy of his inaugural criminal trial in New York, former President Donald Trump has made a bid to postpone its commencement. On March 7, a motion was filed by Trump’s legal team, which only recently became public, requesting Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan to defer the trial. The trial, initially slated for March 25, is now in limbo until the Supreme Court delivers a verdict on Trump’s claim of “presidential immunity” in another of his legal battles. Despite lower federal courts dismissing the notion of such immunity, Trump escalated the matter to the Supreme Court last month. The high court has since consented to hear the case, with arguments scheduled for April 25.

Trump’s lawyers argue that delaying the trial is essential for a fair evaluation of the presidential immunity defense and to avert the misuse of evidence related to official duties, which the prosecution seems poised to introduce in an unprecedented manner. They highlight the state’s intention to present evidence from 2018, during Trump’s tenure in the White House, as part of their case.

The charges against Trump in New York are connected to a “hush money” payment made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, legally known as Stephanie Clifford, by Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, just before the 2016 election. Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to the 2017 reimbursements to Cohen. Despite pleading not guilty and denying any misconduct, Trump’s efforts to transfer the state case to federal court were thwarted in 2023. U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein dismissed the move, stating that the reimbursements were not linked to Trump’s presidential duties.

Hellerstein further clarified that reimbursing Cohen for the hush money payments does not align with any constitutional responsibility. Moreover, altering business records to disguise such payments as business expenses for Trump and income for Cohen is unrelated to presidential duties. He also noted that Trump had explicitly renounced any claims based on absolute presidential immunity.

Trump’s recent filings reiterated his stance that the payments were “official acts,” a claim his attorneys continue to defend. They assert that evidence suggesting these were official acts, and thus covered by presidential immunity, should be excluded from the trial.

A representative for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has chosen not to comment on the matter. During a hearing in June 2023 before Hellerstein, Bragg’s attorney argued that the reimbursements to Cohen were personal transactions to a personal lawyer for Trump, further distancing the actions from any official presidential duties.