Judge sets date for Trump's New York trial; Atlanta case clouded by tawdry allegations against prosecutor

New York, Feb 16 (IANS) A state judge has ordered former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial on alleged hush money payments to start on March 25 — in the middle of the Republican Party primaries — while in Atlanta, uncertainty over the prosecutor’s conduct clouded the timeline of a case charging him with election interference.

Justice Juan Merchan of the New York State Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed Trump’s attempts to have the charges thrown out and denied requests to have the trial start later.

Trump faces 34 charges, including that he falsified business records to cover up payments to porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her after she alleged that she had an affair with him.

The trial is scheduled to start a week before the primary elections in New York and four other states with 17 more to follow and Trump’s lawyer asserted that it amounted to “election interference” because he would be spending time preparing for the case instead of campaigning.

Outside the courtroom, Trump said, “They want to keep me nice and busy so I can’t campaign so hard”.

With less than nine months to the presidential elections, Trump is snared in a web of local and federal cases involving about 90 charges including attempts to overthrow the 2020 election result, election interference, defamation, fraud and violation of official secrets laws.

Meanwhile, he has to face primaries and caucuses, the intraparty elections to pick the Republican Party nominee for president, before the party’s convention in mid-July that will formalise the nomination which he is assured of, despite a continuing challenge from Nikki Haley, a one-time member of his cabinet.

On Thursday in Georgia state’s Atlanta, a tawdry courtroom scene unfolded over allegations that the local prosecutor who brought charges of election interference against Trump was involved in a romantic relationship with one of the lawyers she hired to prosecute the case.

If it is established that the prosecutor Fani Willis was involved with the lawyer, Nathan Wade, who had received payments of about $650,000 for the case before he was hired, it could amount to a conflict of interest and lead to her being ordered off the case.

If that happens, another prosecutor would have to take up the case, delaying the trial.

The allegations against Willis were brought up by a lawyer for one of Trump’s co-defendants in the election interference case charging him and others with trying to overturn the state’s election result.

Both Willis and Wade have not denied their affair, but said that it started after Wade was hired as a special prosecutor — hence was not motivated by the relationship — and that they shared the expenses for trips they took together, meaning Willis did not benefit from the payments to him.

Both of them were grilled by defence lawyers who brought up their personal and financial matters.

In the Washington case accusing Trump of trying to overturn the election result, Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is hearing set the trial date for March 4, but that hinges on a challenge by Trump to the Supreme Court.

It will have to adjudicate Trump’s claim that as he was the President on that day, he has immunity in the case.

If the court does not summarily dismiss the appeal and takes it up for hearings, the federal case will be on hold till it is resolved.

That case charges Trump with instigating the January 6, 2021 riots during which his supporters overran the Capitol to prevent Congress from approving President Joe Biden’s election.

Trump is facing a trial date of May 20 in the official secrets case where he is accused of illegally taking away with him classified documents after leaving office and keeping them.

Last week, a federal judge in New York refused Trump’s request to declare a mistrial in the case of defamation that awarded damages of $83.5 million.

In that case, he was found to have defamed a woman by repeatedly saying that he had not assaulted her, even though a court had ruled that he had in a civil case brought by the woman.

The Supreme Court is also hearing an appeal against a ruling by Colorado courts that he could not be on the ballot in the state because he was involved with his supporters who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and this amounted to an insurrection.

The US Constitution forbids those who participated in insurrections from holding offices.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)



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