Court Battles

Judge rejects Trump’s bid to move hush money case to federal court

A judge Wednesday rejected former President Trump’s bid to move his hush money criminal case to federal court, ruling that the allegations are not connected to Trump’s role as president.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, a Clinton appointee, granted the request of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) office to keep the case in New York state court in a major blow to the former president.

Trump had argued the case must be moved to federal court because he was being prosecuted for an act under the color of his office as president and that Bragg’s prosecution was politically motivated. Granting the request would’ve also broadened the jury pool beyond deep-blue Manhattan to surrounding areas in New York.

Manhattan prosecutors charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records, accusing him of making a series of false entries as he reimbursed his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, in part to conceal a $130,000 hush payment that Cohen made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Trump pleaded not guilty.

A trial in the case is currently set for March 2024. Trump’s lawyers have a deadline late next month to file any motions in state court to dismiss the charges ahead of trial.

They argued that Trump hired Cohen to handle his personal affairs “solely because he was President of the United States” and that the reimbursements were truthful legal expenses made while Trump was serving in the White House.

“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. It does not reflect in any way the color of the President’s official duties,” Hellerstein wrote.

The Hill has reached out to Trump’s legal team for comment.

“We are very pleased with the federal court’s decision and look forward to proceeding in New York State Supreme Court,” a Bragg spokesperson said in a statement.

Hellerstein’s 25-page ruling went on to reject the former president’s assertion of two federal defenses: that he was immune and that federal election laws preempted the charges.

Trump had argued the Constitution gave him immunity from the indictment because the allegations in question were pursued solely because he was president.

“Reimbursing Cohen for advancing hush money to Stephanie Clifford cannot be considered the performance of a constitutional duty,” Hellerstein wrote, using Daniels’s legal name.

“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,” Hellerstein continued. “Trump is not immune from the People’s prosecution in New York Supreme Court. His argument of immunity is not a colorable defense.”

Bragg’s office elevated the falsifying business records charges from a misdemeanor to a felony by connecting them to another crime. Prosecutors in part have cited state campaign finance law violations, and Trump’s attorneys have argued they are preempted by a federal law that governs campaign finance.

Hellerstein wrote the indictment “does not intrude” on the law’s domain.

“The mere fact that Trump is alleged to have engaged in fraudulent conduct with respect to a federal election is not a basis for preemption,” the judge wrote. “There is no colorable basis to support a federal preemption defense.”

Trump had also claimed Bragg’s prosecution was politically motivated because of Trump’s actions as president, citing it as another reason to move the case to federal court.

“But there is no reason to believe that the New York judicial system would not be fair and give Trump equal justice under the law,” Hellerstein wrote.

The former president also faces another indictment for his alleged mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. That case was brought in federal court by the Justice Department.

The Justice Department is also investigating Trump for his efforts to stay in power after losing the 2020 election. Trump said he received a target letter on Sunday, a signal he could soon face charges.

In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) is investigating Trump for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state.

—Updated at 3:38 p.m.

Tags Alvin Bragg Alvin Hellerstein Donald Trump hush money payment Stormy Daniels Trump legal battles

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more