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Manhattan DA’s Office Won’t Be Punished for Dumping Documents That Delayed Start of Trump’s Criminal Trial

NEW YORK (AP) — Manhattan prosecutors will not be penalized for a breaking document dump which caused former President Donald Trump criminal trial for hush money start later than planned, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Juan M. Merchán rejected the defense’s request that prosecutors be sanctioned for an avalanche of nearly 200,000 pages of evidence just weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin. The documents were from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Merchán agreed to delay the start of the trial from March 25 to April 15 to allow the former president’s lawyers to review the material. But at a hearing in March, he rejected her claim that the case had been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and denied her attempt to delay the case longer, dismiss it entirely or bar key prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen. and Stormy Daniels, will testify.

In a written ruling issued Thursday, Merchan reiterated that Trump suffered no harm from the document dump because he and his attorneys were “given a reasonable amount of time to prepare and respond to the material.”

Merchan said he reached the conclusion after reviewing written submissions from both sides, including the timelines they provided him for recounting the disclosure of evidence, as well as arguments and clarifications made at the March 25 hearing on the issue.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment on the ruling. A message seeking comment was left with Trump’s lawyers.

After testimony from 22 witnesses over the past month, including Cohen and Daniels, the first criminal trial of a former president is scheduled to move into closing arguments next Tuesday, with jury deliberations expected to continue Wednesday.

Trump’s lawyers had accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office of intentionally failing to seek evidence from the 2018 federal investigation, which sent Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to prison.

They argued that prosecutors working under Bragg, a Democrat, did so to gain an unfair advantage in the case and harm Trump’s electoral chances. Cohen, now a vocal Trump critic, was a key prosecution witness against his former boss.

At the March 25 hearing, Merchan said the district attorney’s office had no duty to collect evidence from the federal investigation, nor was the U.S. attorney’s office required to voluntarily turn over the documents. What happened was “a far cry” from Manhattan prosecutors “getting involved in the process and vehemently and aggressively trying to obstruct his ability to obtain documentation,” the judge said.

“That’s just not what happened,” Merchan said.

The district attorney’s office denied any wrongdoing and blamed Trump’s lawyers for waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena records from the U.S. attorney’s office, just nine weeks before the trial was originally supposed to begin. Merchan told defense attorneys they should have acted sooner if they believed they didn’t have all the records they wanted.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges of falsifying business records by falsely recording payments to Cohen, then his personal attorney, as legal fees on his firm’s books when they were reimbursements for a $130,000 hush payment he made to Daniels. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump did so as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what he claimed were false stories about extramarital sex.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks. Trump denies having sexual relations with Daniels.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal campaign finance violations related to Daniels’ bribery. He said Trump ordered him to fix it and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but Trump was never charged.

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