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Trump 'hush money' trial set for April 15, bond amount slashed

By AFP

March 26, 2024 10:18 AM


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Donald Trump will in three weeks become the first former US president to face a criminal trial, a judge ruled Monday, hours after an appeals court threw the tycoon a lifeline in his bid to stave off an unrelated, half billion dollar civil fraud judgment.

New York Judge Juan Merchan rejected demands from Trump's attorneys to further delay his trial on charges of paying hush money to a porn star and ordered jury selection to begin on April 15.

The Republican presidential candidate denounced the upcoming trial and other cases brought against him as "election interference" by Democrat Joe Biden, his likely opponent in the November White House vote.

"I don't know how you can have a trial that's going on right in the middle of an election," he said. "It's not fair."

Trump is in prosecutors' crosshairs for a series of alleged crimes, ranging from falsifying business records in the hush money case to trying to overturn the 2020 election, when he became the first president in modern US history to refuse to concede and stoked a mob of supporters to march on Congress.

While Trump has successfully forced delays in his other trials, Monday's decision by Merchan sets the stage for the shocking spectacle of a former president -- and strong candidate for a second term -- potentially becoming a felon.

Asked by reporters if he would take the witness stand in the hush money case, Trump said he "would have no problem testifying."

Trump, 77, got better news in a separate New York appeals court decision in his civil fraud case to slash a potentially crippling $454 million bond payment to just $175 million, with 10 extra days to pay.

Trump had been facing a Monday deadline to fork up the huge original bond pending an appeal against a New York state judge's decision that he is liable for fraudulently conspiring to inflate his net worth.

Trump risked seeing New York authorities confiscate parts of his real estate empire if he failed to come up with the bond but the appeals court decision gives him breathing room.

"I greatly respect the decision of the appellate division and I will post $175 million in cash and bonds or security or whatever is necessary very quickly, within the 10 days," he said.

- Delay, delay, drop charges? -

In the hush money trial, Trump faces charges of falsifying business records for the payments made by his lawyer Michael Cohen on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to make sure porn star Stormy Daniels did not publicize a sexual encounter.

Trump wanted to buy the silence of Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, because news of an extramarital affair with the pornographic performer could have been ruinous, coming right after the married businessman was heard boasting on tape that as a celebrity he was freely able to "grab" women by their genitals.

A visibly exasperated Merchan pushed back against the request by Trump's attorneys to further hold back the already delayed trial by at least 90 days.

The delaying tactics have a clear goal: if Trump wins back the White House he could order the Justice Department to drop his federal charges -- or even, potentially, pardon himself.

Trump faces dozens of charges linked to his alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and also his hoarding of top secret documents taken from the White House.

Trump has said that New York Attorney General Letitia James -- who is Black -- is "racist," and accused Judge Arthur Engeron in the civil fraud case of being "crooked."

After teetering on the verge of financial calamity, Trump got positive financial news last week when it was announced that his Truth Social app would finally go public through a merger, a transaction that could net him billions of dollars.

The merger shoots Trump into the 500 richest people in the world, with a net worth of $6.4 billion, Bloomberg reported.

But he cannot tap into the merger funds for six months under the regulations.


AFP


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