Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom at a hearing in his criminal case on charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star in New York City, U.S., March 25, 2024. 

Brendan Mcdermid | Reuters

Jury selection in the criminal hush money trial of Donald Trump will begin on April 15, a New York judge ruled in a court hearing Monday.

Judge Juan Merchan delivered the ruling after strongly rejecting arguments from Trump’s lawyers who tried to delay the trial. Trump is charged in that case with falsifying business records in a scheme to silence women who say they had affairs with him.

“That you don’t have a case right now is really disconcerting,” Merchan told the former president’s lawyers, referring to their claim that the prosecutors in the case suppressed evidence.

“You are literally accusing the Manhattan [District Attorney’s] office and the people assigned to this case of prosecutorial misconduct,” Merchan said. “You are saying the people assigned to this case are taking part in prosecutorial misconduct, and you don’t have a single cite to support that allegation.”

Trump was in the courtroom listening along as Merchan delivered the stern assessment to his legal team.

Trump called the case “a witch hunt” and “a hoax” as he walked into the courtroom in Manhattan Supreme Court.

At a press conference after the hearing ended, Trump said he would be willing to testify in his defense. But he added that he believed the case may not make it to trial at all.

“I don’t know that you’re going to have the trial,” he said. “I don’t know how you can have a trial like this in the middle of an election, a presidential election.”

The hearing came at the same time that a New York appeals court sharply reduced the amount of money that Trump must pledge to pause a $454 million penalty from coming due in a separate civil case.

Trump was due to face a financial reckoning from New York Attorney General Letitia James, who, as soon as Monday, was poised to start to collecting that massive judgment. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee had been unable to put up cash covering the entire judgment in order to obtain that bond.

But during a midday break in Monday’s hearing, a panel of appellate judges cut Trump’s bond to $175 million, significantly lowering the amount of money he will have to post. The panel gave Trump 10 days to post the bond.

As he reentered Merchan’s courtroom, Trump told reporters, “I greatly respect the decision of the appellate division.” He then railed against the judge who delivered the $454 million verdict, calling him “a disgrace to this country.”

The hush money case was previously set for trial on Monday but was postponed until at least mid-April after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on March 14 said he did not oppose a 30-day delay in order to give Trump time to review a tranche of recently submitted documents.

Trump’s attorneys previously asked Merchan to either dismiss Bragg’s indictment entirely or delay the trial for at least 90 days, arguing that the D.A.’s office improperly gave them tens of thousands of pages of case documents with little time to prepare.

But Bragg pushed back, telling Merchan that the late arrival of those materials “is a result solely of defendant’s delay despite the People’s diligence.”

The judge in Monday’s hearing appeared highly skeptical of Trump’s lawyers.

“You began by saying somehow the D.A. obstructed,” Merchan said. “That is just not what happened.”

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Trump, who is grappling with four active criminal cases and multiple costly civil cases while he runs to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden, had raged against both the fraud case and the hush money case prior to Monday’s hearing.

The penalty in the civil case “should be ZERO, I DID NOTHING WRONG!” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social.

“The D.A. Case, that I am going to today, should be dismissed. No crime. Our Country is CORRUPT!” he added in the same post.

Bragg’s indictment accuses Trump of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide damaging information from voters before the 2016 presidential election.

The case centers on a $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels less than two weeks before that election, which Trump would go on to win against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

That payment, made by Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen, was intended to buy Daniels’ silence about an extramarital affair she says she had with Trump years earlier, Bragg’s indictment said.

Cohen has since pleaded guilty to making an illegal campaign contribution, which he said he made at Trump’s direction. Cohen has become a vocal enemy of Trump’s, and he is set to testify in the hush money trial.

Trump has denied having sex with Daniels. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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