Trump renews effort to boot judge from Stormy Daniels hush money case

Lawyers for Donald Trump on Tuesday renewed their effort to boot the presiding judge from the Stormy Daniels hush money case, doubling down on a failed argument that the jurist’s daughter was profiting from his prosecution. 

The filings came a day after the former president and presumed Republican nominee in this year’s election was barred from publicly attacking state Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan’s relatives and those of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg following a string of disparaging social media posts targeting Merchan’s daughter, Loren. They represent Trump’s latest effort to delay the case, which is headed to trial on April 15

Trump unsuccessfully sought Merchan’s recusal last August. The judge said that his daughter’s job at Authentic Campaigns, Inc., a digital agency that works on campaigns for Democrats, including President Biden, would not affect his ability to be impartial, citing findings by a state committee on judicial ethics. 

Judge Juan Merchan poses for a picture in his chambers in New York, Thursday, March 14, 2024. Merchan could become the first judge ever to oversee a former U.S. president's criminal trial. He's presiding over Donald Trump's hush money case in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Judge Juan Merchan. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

In Tuesday’s filings, Trump’s lawyers said Federal Election Commission records showed the firm Merchan’s daughter works for had made millions representing Democrats since Trump’s first indictment, including from entities that solicited contributions based on the hush money case.

“[There] is an unacceptable risk that the Court’s family relationships will influence judicial conduct … It can no longer be ignored that Authentic’s commercial interests are benefitted by developments in this case that harm President Trump’s penal interests and divert his efforts from running his leading campaign for the presidency by requiring him to prepare and sit for trial during the general election,” Trump lawyers Todd Blanche and Susan Necheles wrote.

“Those benefits and the ongoing financial interest cannot be ignored.”

In response, prosecutors vehemently opposed the request, which they said was devoid of facts and based on a “daisy chain of innuendos.”

“There is simply nothing new here that would alter this Court’s prior conclusion that nothing about this proceeding will directly benefit Authentic or this Court’s family member, let alone this Court,” Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo wrote.

Stormy Daniels (RALF HIRSCHBERGER/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)
Stormy Daniels in 2018. (RALF HIRSCHBERGER/DPA/AFP via Getty Images)

Merchan on Monday expanded a partial gag order he issued last week — which protected witnesses and potential witnesses, jurors and prospective jurors, prosecutors, court staff, and relatives of all involved, but not his own and those of the DA. The revised order came after Trump told his followers Merchan’s daughter was a “Rabid Trump Hater” and falsely claimed she was criticizing him online on an account court officials said has not belonged to her for more than a year. Trump is still free to say whatever he wants about Merchan and the DA. 

The judge agreed with prosecutors that Trump’s online offensives were deliberate and intended to delay the trial and intimidate him. He described attempts by his lawyers to justify his rhetoric as “disingenuous and not rational” and said further misconduct would result in Trump forfeiting the right to know jurors’ identities. Targets of Trump’s online attacks connected to his New York cases have been subjected to death threats in recent months. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felonies in his Manhattan criminal case, one of four he faces in the leadup to the presidential election.

The charges allege he concealed reimbursement to Michael Cohen during his first year in the White House for carrying out a hush money scheme that included payoffs to Daniels, Playboy model Karen McDougal, and a Trump Tower doorman to hide a series of sex scandals from voters. He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

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