Judge says Trump's hush money trial will move forward, shoots down campaign conflict arguments

The criminal trial is scheduled to start on March 25.

The judge in former President Trump's criminal hush money case in New York City says Trump's trial will proceed on March 25 as planned, and that he expects it to last six weeks.

In the case's final hearing before the trial gets underway, with Trump in attendance, Judge Juan Merchan on Thursday denied Trump's motion to dismiss the case and shot down arguments from the defense that the trial should be delayed because it will interfere with Trump's campaigning for president.

Speaking to members of the media after the hearing, Trump appeared to accept the trial date, telling reporters he plans to campaign at night.

"We'll just have to figure it out," Trump said. "I'll be here during the day, and I'll be campaigning during the night."

Criticizing the merits of the case, Trump said he is "honored" to be present for the trial.

"I'm honored to sit here day after day after day on something that everybody says the greatest legal scholars say it's not even a crime," he said.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, alleging that Trump falsified Trump Organization records to hide payments he made to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who allegedly used the money to kill stories about Trump's long-denied extramarital affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal just days before the 2016 election.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York, Feb. 15, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York, Feb. 15, 2024.
Bryan Woolston/AP

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has denied all wrongdoing. His attorney Todd Blanche has argued in pretrial motions that the payments to Cohen were lawful money transfers from Trump's own personal bank accounts.

Before Thursday's hearing concluded, Blanche made one last effort to delay the start of the trial.

"We strenuously object to what is happening in this courtroom," he told the judge. "That President Trump is now going to spend the next two months working on this trial instead of" being out there campaigning for president "is something that shouldn't happen in this country."

"What is your legal argument?" Judge Marchan asked.

"That is my legal argument," Blanche replied.

"That's not a legal argument," Merchan said. "See you all on March 25."

As part of Thursday's hearing, Judge Merchan went over the specifics of jury selection, going through questions that might be included in the final questionnaire potential jurors would answer during the voir dire process.

"Do any of you believe the 2020 election was stolen?" Merchan read as an example, inviting the parties to raise their objections or support of the questions.

"The problem is that an affirmative answer shows an unwillingness to follow the facts," prosecutor Josh Steinglass responded in support of the question.

Blanche disagreed emphatically.

"Completely inappropriate," Blanche said. "Over half the population of this country believe the election was stolen. This trial is not going to solve that."

Other questions garnered agreement between the parties. One proposed question about where jurors get their news -- potentially asking if they listened to hosts like Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity -- was resolved by leaving the question open-ended for the jurors.

Blanche generally pushed for questions that helped demonstrate the jurors' political affiliation.

"A juror's political affiliation has to be something we know or understand," Blanche argued.

"They can like him; they can dislike him. They can still be fair jurors," Steinglass responded.

Merchan appeared to side with Steinglass, telling the parties it would be "inappropriate" to ask about political affiliation.

Blanche earlier argued that Merchan was putting the former president "in an impossible position" by scheduling a trial in the midst of a series of "compressed and expedited schedules" elsewhere in the country, citing Trump's criminal cases in Washington, Georgia and Florida.

Merchan -- who said he had consulted twice with Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing Trump's federal election interference case in Washington, D.C. -- allowed Blanche to air several complaints before cutting him off, asking sharply, "Is there anything else you want to put on the record?"

"I've tried to work with you where it's reasonable," Merchan told Blanche. "You're not going to be in two places at the same time."

Blanche also insisted to Judge Merchan that the onslaught of media coverage is tainting the jury pool.

"The constitution affords the president a fair trial," Blanche said.

"I appreciate what you're saying about your client's constitutional rights. I don't want to violate his constitutional rights nor does anyone else," Merchan said. "We are moving ahead towards jury selection on March 25."

Bragg, in a statement released after court Thursday, said he is looking forward to the start of the trial.

"We are pleased that the Court denied the defense's motion to dismiss. We look forward to presenting our case in court on March 25, 2024," the DA said.