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Judge in New York to rule on motions in Trump's hush-money criminal case

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump appears in New York Criminal Court today. He's been charged with criminal falsification of business records in connection with trying to cover up an alleged extramarital affair that happened during the 2016 campaign. NPR's Andrea Bernstein is here to tell us more about what's to come in New York. Andrea, Trump has more than one court case on his schedule. What's happening in this one?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Last April, the former president was charged in Manhattan with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. This stems from 11 payments that were made to former Trump Organization vice president and counsel Michael Cohen that were described by the Trump Organization falsely as, quote, "legal retainers." But what they actually were were reimbursements to Cohen for paying off a former adult film actress who was threatening to go public with charges she'd had an affair with Trump not long after he married Melania Trump.

Trump said last year, with respect to the Stormy nonsense, it is very old and it happened a long time ago. And though Trump has pleaded not guilty, the fact of the payments and the false records isn't in dispute. What the DA has to prove is that Trump made them in order to further another crime. The Manhattan DA, Alvin Bragg, described that on New York's public radio station back in December like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALVIN BRAGG: The case is about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then, you know, lying in New York business records to cover it up. And so that's the heart of the case.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the case is supposed to go to trial March 25. What are the odds we'll find out today whether that'll happen.

BERNSTEIN: We're supposed to find out today. Lawyers for both sides filed motions last year. Trump's lawyers want the case to be dismissed. They say the charges are old, the records were personal, not business, and that it's unfair to make a presidential candidate stand trial as the campaign heats up. But the DA has pointed out, rightly, that one of the reasons the case is so old is that Trump went to the U.S. Supreme Court twice to prevent the DA from even seeing his tax records. Trump lost both times. The DA also says they got additional evidence after Trump was indicted from a campaign insider they say speaks to Trump's criminal intent.

MARTÍNEZ: What about Trump's other criminal cases? I mean, could those change the trial date for this one?

BERNSTEIN: Well, in theory, yes. And in the past, the judge and the DA here said they were amenable to changing the date. But as of now, there is no trial set before March 25. Special counsel Jack Smith's January 6 case had been set for March 4 in Washington, but that trial date has been delayed while Trump argues he is immune from prosecution once again before the U.S. Supreme Court. So right now, it's very possible Trump's first criminal trial could be this one.

MARTÍNEZ: And actually, since we're talking about New York, one more New York-based Trump case I want to ask you about. This one is involving business fraud. Now, what's the status of that one?

BERNSTEIN: We could see a verdict in that case tomorrow. This is the case where the judge already decided that Trump had engaged in business fraud but had yet to determine how much money Trump would have to pay back to New York state for what the judge described during the trial as ill-gotten gains. The attorney general in New York wants $370 million, which he says is the amount of extra cash Trump got by lying to banks about the value of his assets. Lawyers for Trump argued way back in January. And in fact, Trump himself argued when he went rogue and just started speaking directly to the judge during closing arguments that this was an unfair civil action based on ignorance of how real estate works. So if we get that verdict before the week wraps up, we could have a judgment in that case. And a criminal trial date set in New York for Donald Trump.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein
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