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Trump’s pugilistic defense strategy will be tested in hush money trial

The opening of Donald Trump’s first criminal trial on Monday will put to the test a defense strategy that his lawyers have been refining for a year – a confrontational gamble that irritated the judge and which could cost the presidential candidate dearly when the verdict comes.

Fight for every scrap of evidence. Press for each possible delay. This approach has been successful so far in Trump’s three other pending criminal cases, potentially pushing them all toward or beyond the November presidential election. Surprisingly, it is in Manhattan, in a courthouse known for long delays before many criminal trials, that the former president and presumptive Republican nominee will face his first day of trial.

Trump’s defense strategy in New York is unique from the other three cases in one respect: It aims to deny any involvement in key conversations about secret payments made through his former lawyer and arranger, Michael Cohen. according to people close to his project, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Prosecutors who have charged him with falsifying business records say details of those conversations will help prove that Trump illegally classified his reimbursement to Cohen as a legal fee rather than a campaign expense. Prosecutors say the purpose of the payments was to conceal from 2016 voters any allegations of an extramarital tryst with Stormy Daniels, an adult film star.

In Florida, where Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents – and in Washington and Georgia, where he is accused of obstructing the election results – his lawyers have argued in substance that Trump engaged in the behavior in question, but that this behavior did not constitute crimes. He has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

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Denial is only part of Trump’s New York strategy; delay is another. Three times last week, his lawyers rushed to an appeals court to try to block the impending trial; three times their appeals were rejected.

“He believes that, from a political point of view, all business should take place after the election,” said David Schoen, a former Trump lawyer.

Many people facing trial do everything they can to slow down the process, knowing that witnesses’ memories may fade, prosecutors may change positions, or the public interest may evaporate. What Trump brings to these delay efforts is a megaphone and a new argument – ​​the unprecedented nature of the trial of a former president and current candidate, and the still-obscure possibility of getting free get-out-of-jail-free cards if he was re-elected.

“Virtually every defendant out on bail seeks to delay their trial forever, and judges and prosecutors know that most defendants must be dragged kicking and screaming to trial,” said Ron Kuby, a seasoned defense attorney in New York.

The most surprising thing about Trump’s delaying tactics, Kuby said, is that they haven’t worked well in New York compared to so many other defendants.

Trump also tries to disparage his accusers — from New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan to District Attorney Alvin Bragg to key witnesses like Cohen and Daniels.

Once again, Trump stands out from other criminal defendants – even the most famous – in that his relentless attacks on the justice system and those involved in his indictment appear to have strengthened his position in the polls and rallied his Republican base.

“Attacking the system, the fairness of it, the motivations of the people who are coming after you, that’s not new,” Kuby said. “But never before in history has anyone been as successful as Donald Trump, in terms of mass acceptance of his message. In any case, I have never seen this before with any defendant.

Merchan has become increasingly frustrated with Trump’s demands for delay, expressing particular displeasure with Trump’s lead lawyer, Todd Blanche.

When Blanche was hired a year ago, he told other lawyers on the defense team that the immediate goal was to slow down all criminal cases, according to people familiar with his decree, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Attorneys have stepped up their efforts to draft numerous pretrial motions in each case, scrutinizing each indictment for anything that could prolong the process with responses, hearings, rulings and appeals.

In many legal proceedings, opposing attorneys stipulate basic facts to avoid wasting time on minor details that aren’t really in dispute. Within Trump’s legal team, the decision was made to stipulate nothing and fight for everything, according to the people familiar with the discussions.

One of Blanche’s associates, Emil Bove, took particular interest in the classified documents case, in which Trump’s team praised the speed with which Judge Aileen M. Cannon issues her rulings, even when they weren’t supportive of Trump. The case has been delayed indefinitely while the judge considers motions involving the handling of classified evidence and the defense’s multiple claims that Trump should not have been charged. The legal team plans to fight for every classified document, people with knowledge of the strategy say.

On Saturday, Trump’s lawyers filed documents asking Cannon to push back the May 9 deadline she recently set for new submissions in the case – arguing it would take them at least a week to prepare in a highly secure classified evidence room, at a time when they are to be tried in New York. The filing seeks to push back the deadline until three weeks after the trial concludes in New York.

The Georgia case was also slowed by a slew of motions to dismiss the case and was temporarily derailed by allegations of misconduct by the Fulton County prosecutor. Meanwhile, Trump’s federal election obstruction case in Washington is on hold while the Supreme Court weighs his immunity request.

When Trump’s defense team was strategizing for the 2024 court calendar, it was least concerned about the New York case, the people familiar with the conversations said. But they also won a temporary reprieve, thanks to another part of their legal strategy: ambitiously demanding access to potential evidence held by the government.

Originally scheduled to begin in March, the trial was pushed back to mid-April after federal prosecutors which had previously indicted Cohen and reviewed Daniels’ payment — suddenly turned over more than 100,000 pages of documents.

Trump’s team had subpoenaed the documents from federal prosecutors, requesting far more than the local prosecutor had initially requested.

Once these stacks of documents were provided, the defense argued that local prosecutors failed to meet their obligations.

Trump’s lawyers asked for – and were granted – a delay in the trial to review the documents. His lawyers have made similarly ambitious demands for potential evidence in the other cases, and it remains to be seen whether those efforts will be successful for his defense team.

In New York, this strategy came at a cost: Merchan lost patience with Blanche’s accusations of wrongdoing. He questioned why the lawyer, himself a former federal prosecutor, had not subpoenaed these documents months earlier.

The judge chastised Blanche for what he called “a pattern where I read certain information, I hear certain information, and then I hear your interpretation of that, and it’s really different from my interpretation.” And frankly, this has been going on for months.

Barring one last attempt at delay, Trump will appear in Manhattan Criminal Court on Monday and lawyers will begin picking a jury.

The accused’s immense public profile and extremely polarizing nature will make this process difficult, said Jeffrey Bellin, a law professor at William & Mary and a former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. — not because jurors shouldn’t know who Trump is or have an opinion about him, but because jurors shouldn’t not let these opinions influence their decision-making.

“I can’t think of a similar American trial in recent times with jury selection as difficult as this one,” Bellin said. “There are other trials with famous defendants, for example the Bill Cosby trial or cases like that. But there are people who don’t have strong feelings about Bill Cosby…they won’t really feel innocent or guilty, in the same way that many people not only know who Donald Trump is, but have strong feelings towards him. what should happen in these cases.

In the city that made Trump famous but where he is now deeply unpopular, his legal team is aiming for a mistrial as much as anything else, according to sources familiar with the defense strategy. Criminal defense lawyers like to say that prosecutors need to convince 12 people in the jury box, but that defendants only need to convince one, and that may be especially true in the Trump case.

Trump’s continued comments about the case could be aimed at shaping public perceptions, including those of potential jurors, Bellin said. However, this carries risks. Defendants generally don’t attack judges, who can come back to bite them during sentencing. Disparaging the case and the people involved could also frustrate the jury.

At a civil trial earlier this year in Manhattan, Trump’s attitude and behavior did not appear to go down well with the jury, which ordered him to pay $83 million to writer E. Jean Carroll after she accused him of sexually assaulting her and sued him. for defamation.

As he sat in the courtroom, Trump grumbled, complained and occasionally fumed — so much so that the judge threatened to evict him for defying his orders to keep quiet while Carroll testified.

Trump has already begun the secret trial on ice with Merchan, who imposed a mandate of silence barring Trump from criticizing witnesses, court staff and certain others. Still, the former president is expected to speak often outside of court, as he did in another civil lawsuit over corporate fraud filed by Attorney General Letitia James (D).

In this case, James obtained a judgment of almost half a billion dollars against him.

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jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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