A federal judge on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to move his hush-money payments case from New York state court to a federal venue. The ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein means the case will stay in Manhattan criminal court, where District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is prosecuting Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. A spokesperson for Bragg said: “We are very pleased with the federal court’s decision and look forward to proceeding in New York State Supreme Court.” The case will now go back to state criminal court in Manhattan, where it will be overseen by Judge Juan Merchan, and is scheduled to go to trial in March.
Pleading not guilty, Trump argued that the payments were connected to his duties as president and that the case should therefore be heard in federal court; Judge Hellerstein rejected that argument, writing in his 25-page ruling: “Trump has failed to show that the conduct charged by the Indictment is for or relating to any act performed by or for the President under color of the official acts of a President. Trump also has failed to show that he has a colorable federal defense to the Indictment.”
Hellerstein said in his ruling: “The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely a personal item of the President — a cover-up of an embarrassing event. Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President’s official acts. Falsifying business records to hide such reimbursement, and to transform the reimbursement into a business expense for Trump and income to Cohen, likewise does not relate to a presidential duty.” The conduct Trump is accused of covering up includes a $130,000 payment his then-lawyer Michael Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels near the end of the 2016 presidential campaign to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Trump. Trump has acknowledged repaying Cohen in a series of payments in 2017 but he maintains the payments were on the up-and-up, and that he never had an affair with Daniels.
A Trump campaign spokesperson said in a statement that “this case belongs in a federal court and we will continue to pursue all legal avenues to move it there.” Trump’s attorneys had argued the former president could claim additional defenses in a federal court setting, in part because they say he would not have hired Cohen as his personal lawyer had he not been elected president.
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