A judge has issued a ruling following a request by lawyers representing former President Donald Trump to have his Manhattan “hush money” case moved to federal court.
U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who President Bill Clinton appointed, has rejected Trump’s bid and granted a motion filed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to keep the case in a New York state court instead.
“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 in his ruling, according to The Hill.
Trump had contended that the case should be transferred to federal court on the grounds that he was being prosecuted for an action carried out in his capacity as president, and he believed the prosecution by Bragg was politically motivated. Granting the request would have expanded the jury pool beyond deep-blue Manhattan to include surrounding areas in New York.
Bragg filed 34 charges against Trump for falsifying business records, alleging that he engaged in a series of fake entries to reimburse his former fixer, attorney Michael Cohen. It was done, in part, to conceal a $130,000 hush payment made by Cohen to adult film star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 presidential election, according to reports. Trump entered a plea of not guilty in response to the charges.
Bragg’s office elevated the falsifying business records charges from a misdemeanor to a felony by linking them to another offense. Prosecutors pointed to violations of state campaign finance laws as part of their case, while Trump’s legal team has countered that these charges should be preempted by a federal law that governs campaign finance.
“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.”
Hellerstein added that 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 noted in his ruling. “There is no colorable basis to support a federal preemption defense.”
The decision is considered a big blow to the former president, who believed he would get a fairer shake before a federal judge.
“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, the outlet reported.
Trump’s team has also argued that they don’t think he will get a fair trial in a New York court, something Hellerstain also addressed.
“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 noted.
The trial for this case is scheduled to take place in March 2024. Trump’s legal team has until the end of next month to file any motions in state court seeking to dismiss the charges before the trial proceeds.
The former president also faces another indictment for purportedly mishandling classified documents at Mar-a-Lago in a case brought by the Biden Justice Department.
In addition, the DOJ is conducting an investigation into Trump’s alleged efforts to remain in power following his defeat in the 2020 election. Trump disclosed that he received a target letter on Sunday, implying that charges against him could be imminent.