Trump trial updates: Appeals court denies defense's bid for judge's recusal

The defense rested its case Tuesday without testimony from Donald Trump.

Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York City, where he is facing felony charges related to a 2016 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It marks the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been tried on criminal charges.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

What to know about the hush money case

READ MORE: Here's what you need to know about the historic case.

Judge issues written decision denying defense's bid for sanctions

In a written order, Judge Juan Merchan has denied a defense motion to sanction prosecutors for the late production of evidence in the case earlier this year.

In March, attorneys for former President Trump requested that Judge Merchan sanction prosecutors and adjourn the trial after federal prosecutors turned over more than 100,000 pages of potential evidence just ahead of the trial. Defense lawyers argued that the prosecutors engaged in "widespread misconduct including the suppression of evidence" and sought to interfere with the 2024 election.

After an in-person hearing on March 25, Merchan denied the request to adjourn the trial and promised to follow up with a written decision, which he issued today.

"This court found that the Defendant would not suffer any prejudice as a result of the document production at issue because the Defendant was given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material," the order said.

Appeals court denies defense's bid for judge's recusal

New York's Appellate Division has upheld Judge Juan Merchan's decision not to recuse himself from former President Trump's hush money case.

Trump's defense team had sought Merchan's recusal based on his daughter's work for a consulting firm with Democratic clients.

A panel of appellate judges ruled that Trump failed to prove the judge overstepped his authority by denying a defense motion for recusal.

"Petitioner has failed to establish that the court acted in excess of its jurisdiction by denying his motion," today's order said. "Petitioner also has not established that he has a clear right to recusal."

The judges also found that the defense appeal was procedurally improper since they waited too long to appeal Merchan's August 2023 recusal order, then rushed to the Appellate Division before Merchan ruled on their more recent recusal motion.

The appellate court also upheld Merchan's decision denying Trump's argument that some of his social media posts were covered by presidential immunity.

The appeals court said Trump could include both appeals in its general appeal of the verdict should he be found guilty.

The court also denied Trump's request for a change of venue for the trial, which Trump had sought before the trial began last month.

The former president has repeatedly criticized Judge Merchan as "conflicted" throughout the trial.

Trump says he didn't testify in part because of his 'past'

Donald Trump said Wednesday that he didn't take the stand in his hush money trial because he didn't agree with the judge's rulings -- and because he was seemingly worried about information that could have come out during cross-examination.

"He made rulings that makes it very difficult to testify," Trump said in an interview on WABC Radio, referring to Judge Juan Merchan. "Anything I did, anything I did in the past, they can bring everything up, and you know what, I've had a great past -- but anything."

"The other reason is because they have no case," Trump said. "In other words, why would -- why testify when they have no case?"

Trump had originally indicated he would testify, saying on April 12 that "I would testify, absolutely." But he subsequently appeared to back away from the idea, falsely telling reporters on May 2 that the limited gag order in the case -- which prohibits extrajudicial statements about witnesses and jurors -- prevented him from testifying.

The next day in court, Judge Merchan directly addressed Trump to clarify that he has an "absolute right" to testify and that the limited gag order does not apply to his statements in court.

"I want to stress, Mr. Trump, that you have an absolute right to testify at trial, if that is what you decide to do after consultation with your attorneys," Merchan said.

-Lalee Ibssa, Soo Rin Kim and Kelsey Walsh

In final clash, lawyers spar over retainer instructions

Prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, at the end of the afternoon's pre-charge conference, argued that the jury's instructions should include that retainer agreements are legally required for lawyers to begin conducting work for a client.

Prosecutors have argued that Trump falsified records because he characterized Michael Cohen's hush money reimbursement as legal expenses pursuant to a retainer agreement. Defense lawyers have argued that Cohen was paid by the company for years and never had a retainer agreement with Trump -- or needed to.

"It is in fact the law," Steinglass said about the requirement to have a retainer.

"We don't think that's right, judge," defense attorney Emil Bove responded.

Judge Juan Merchan said he would review the rules before making a decision.

The judge subsequently ended the conference, telling the attorneys he would aim provide them with the final jury instruction by the end of the day Thursday so they can prepare over the weekend, ahead of the jury getting the case next week.

The proceedings will resume on Tuesday morning with summations.

Prosecutors play recording of Cohen discussing payment

Prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, with Michael Cohen back on the stand, played an Oct. 16, 2017, recording that Cohen secretly made of a conversation with Stormy Daniels' then-attorney Keith Davidson regardin the Stormy Daniels payment.

"What would you do if you were me?" Cohen is heard asking on the recording.

"Ugh. I can't even -- I don't even know. ... I can't even imagine," says Davidson.

"I mean, would you write a book, would you break away from the entire Trump, you know, we'll call it doctrine, you know, would you go completely rouge, would you join with Bannon, you know. What -- I mean any -- any thoughts?" Cohen asks.

"Because it's not just me that's now being affected. It is my entire family. It's, you know -- and the --- there's no -- nobody is thinking about Michael. You understand? And despite what like -- for example, you know, what the earlier conversation, you know, and who else would do that for somebody, who else?" he says on the recording.

" I did [it], because I care about that guy and I wasn't going to play pennywise, pound foolish," COhen says, to which Davidson replied, "Right."

"And I'm sitting there and I'm saying to myself, what about me?" says Cohen. "And I can't --- I can't even tell you how many times he said to me, you know, 'I hate the fact that we did it.' And my comment to him was, "But every person that you've spoken to told you it was the right move."

Asked by Hoffinger about the recording, Cohen said, "I was referring to the payment that I made to Keith Davidson that I made on behalf of Mr. Trump."

"How has telling the truth about what you did with Mr. Trump affected you?" Hoffinger asked.

"My entire life has been turned upside down. I lost my law license, my businesses, my financial security, which I was fortunate early to be able to obtain. My family's happiness is paramount," said Cohen.