Newsdeck

Newsdeck

Trump in NY Court Again as Key Decisions in Three Cases Collide

Trump in NY Court Again as Key Decisions in Three Cases Collide
Former US President Donald Trump speaks during a "Get Out The Vote" rally at the North Charleston Convention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, US, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024. Trump is on the cusp of the Republican nomination and is looking to deliver a knockout blow to Nikki Haley, his last remaining GOP challenger, in her home state of South Carolina, which holds its primary on Feb. 24.

Donald Trump is set to appear in a Manhattan court Thursday in the prosecution over his alleged hush-money payments to a porn star, just as major developments come to a head in at least three closely-watched cases against the former president.

As the week draws to a close, a trio of judges in two states will weigh decisions that will have major implications for Trump’s criminal defense, his campaign to return to the White House and the future of the real estate business behind his vast wealth.

At the hush-money hearing in Manhattan, a judge is expected to decide whether Trump will face a criminal trial as soon as March 25. The next day another Manhattan judge is slated to deliver a bombshell verdict in New York’s civil fraud trial against him. And in Atlanta, hearings are set Thursday and Friday to determine whether Fani Willis, the district attorney overseeing Trump’s election-interference prosecution, should be kicked off the case.

The packed court schedule shows how quickly the billionaire’s legal entanglements continue to heat up as he gets closer to clinching the Republican nomination for the November presidential election.

Trump’s appearance will be the first in the case by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg since he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts last year. The judge will determine if the charges can proceed to trial and, if so, when. A tentative jury trial was set for March 25, which would likely disrupt Trump’s plans to be on the campaign trail.

But a more crucial decision may come Friday, when Justice Arthur Engoron is expected to belatedly deliver a verdict in the attorney general’s $370 million civil fraud trial against Trump. If the judge imposes the penalties sought by the state, it could take a massive bite out of the former president’s cash reserves and ban him for life from the New York real estate market where he made his fortune.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, the judge overseeing Fulton County’s prosecution of Trump and others over his alleged effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election is holding a two-day hearing to determine whether he should disqualify Willis over allegations she gained a financial and personal benefit from her romantic relationship with the lead prosecutor, Nathan Wade.

‘Hush Money’

Merchan initially scheduled the hush-money trial to start March 25. He later put it on hold after the judge in the federal election-obstruction case scheduled a March 4 trial in Washington. But the latter trial date was called off amid Trump’s appeal over immunity, and it hasn’t yet been rescheduled. That potentially frees up Merchan’s original trial date.

Bragg claims Trump falsified business records at his company relating to a $130,000 payment his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, made to porn star Stormy Daniels, to keep her quiet about an alleged affair. The indictment also spells out other efforts by Trump to hide salacious news from the public to win the presidency.

Trump, in seeking dismissal, argued prosecutors waited too long to bring charges and only did so after a “meandering” investigation. His lawyers argued Bragg charged Trump more than six years after public reporting about the payments and almost five years after launching a grand-jury investigation.

Asset Valuations

In the lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general, Engoron held Trump liable for fraud before the trial started, resolving the biggest claim in the case. But the judge must still rule on six additional claims as well as penalties that could cripple some operations at Trump’s Manhattan-based real estate empire.

Among the possible penalties the judge is considering is a $370 million fine, banning Trump or his sons from doing business in New York, or appointing an independent monitor at Trump Organization. The order may also shine more light on the details of the cancellation of business certificates, which remains on hold amid an appeal.

Read More: Trump Cash Stockpile at Risk From $450 Million Dual Verdicts

In the suit, New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges Trump and his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, inflated the value of his assets by as much as $3.6 billion a year to get better terms on loans from Deutsche Bank AG and other lenders, reaping $370 million in “illegal profit” over more than a decade.

The judge’s verdict could go either way on the remaining claims, but so far Engoron has expressed strong dissatisfaction with Trump’s defenses and arguments both before and during the trial, calling them “patently false,” “fatally flawed” and accusing his lawyers of “obstreperous conduct.”

Georgia Scandal

In Atlanta, Willis has been on the defensive since a Jan. 8 filing by Trump co-defendant Michael Roman claiming she had a romance with Wade before she hired him to lead her election-fraud investigation. Roman claimed the county paid him a total of $650,000 – more than anyone in the office – even as they took trips together.

Willis and Wade, who is in the midst of a contentious divorce, have since admitted they began a relationship in 2022, but deny any misconduct. Roman attorney Ashleigh Merchant has countered that she can produce witnesses and documents stating the affair began before Willis hired Wade, who was working as a private attorney at the time.

Trump and other defendants have joined the legal attack, claiming Willis received an improper personal and financial benefit from the prosecution. They seek dismissal of the indictment, or at least removal of Willis, Wade and the DA’s office from the case – a potentially crippling blow to the prosecution.

Read More: Trump Judge Orders Hearing on Fani Willis Affair With Prosecutor

The sordid details of the affair will unspool Thursday and Friday before Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who said this week he needs to hear witnesses to sort it all out.

The issues he must resolve, he said, are whether a relationship existed, whether it was romantic or not, when it started and whether it’s continuing. The hearing could be brutal for Willis and Wade, who may or may not testify.

Among the main witnesses will be Terrence Bradley, a former business partner of Wade and his former divorce lawyer. Merchant claims he will testify that the romance began before Wade was hired. Other witnesses she seeks to call include Willis’s security detail and her father.

Supreme Court

The legal developments also come as Trump awaits key decisions from the US Supreme Court. The justices heard arguments last week in a Colorado case over whether Trump can be banned from the November ballot by individual states that determine he engaged in an insurrection by trying to overturn the 2020 election results. The high court is also weighing Trump’s request to keep the federal election case against him on hold while he seeks to overturn a ruling that he doesn’t have presidential immunity from criminal charges.

Trump, the first former US president to be indicted, faces two other federal prosecutions that are also wending their way toward trial: one in Washington over the 2020 election and another in Florida over his handling of sensitive White House documents after he left office.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Feeling powerless in politics?

Equip yourself with the tools you need for an informed decision this election. Get the Elections Toolbox with shareable party manifesto guide.