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Former President Donald Trump arrives for the start of a court hearing, surrounded by security.
Former President Donald Trump arrives for the start of a court hearing in New York, Monday, March 25, 2024. A judge set the date for the start of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s hush money trial for April 15, 2024. Justin Lane/Pool Photo via AP

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump will stand trial starting April 15 on charges related to hush money payments meant to cover up claims of marital infidelity, a New York judge ruled Monday in tersely swatting aside defense claims of prosecutorial misconduct.

Assuming the date holds, the decision from Judge Juan M. Merchan ensures that the prosecution will be the first of four criminal cases against Trump to reach trial, with the presumptive Republican nominee facing a jury in the city where he built a business empire decades ago and gained celebrity status.

The trial, initially set for Monday, had been in limbo after a last-minute document dump caused a postponement of the original date. In setting jury selection for April 15, Merchan bristled at what he suggested were baseless defense claims of “prosecutorial misconduct,” unpersuaded by Trump team suggestions that prosecutors had until recently concealed tens of thousands of pages of records from a federal probe covering the same issues.

Prosecutors said only a handful of those newly released records were relevant to the case, while defense lawyers contended that thousands of pages are potentially important and require a painstaking review. Merchan, who earlier this month postponed the trial until at least mid-April, told defense lawyers that they should have acted much sooner if they believed they didn’t have all the records they felt they were entitled to.

Trump “will not suffer any prejudice” from the recent provision of material and the prosecutors who turned it over were not at fault, Merchan said.

Outside the courtroom, Trump complained about the ruling, characterizing the case—as he has done repeatedly—as an act of “election interference” in the midst of his presidential campaign.

“This is a case that could have been brought three and a half years ago. And now they’re fighting over days because they want to try and do it during the election. This is election interference. That’s all it is. Election interference and it’s a disgrace,” the former president said.

The hearing took place on a consequential day for Trump’s legal affairs, with a New York appeals court granting him a dose of good news by agreeing to hold off collection of his $454 million civil fraud judgment—if he puts up $175 million within 10 days.

The two developments underscored the extent to which New York, the city where Trump was born and raised, has emerged as an epicenter of his criminal and civil jeopardy. Though the hush money case filed last year by prosecutors in Manhattan is seen as involving less serious accusations than his other prosecutions—which charge him with conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and illegally retaining classified documents—it’s taken on added importance given that it’s the only one that appears likely for trial in the coming months.

Monday’s hearing centered on a documents dispute that had threatened to delay the case for additional weeks if not months.

Trump’s lawyers had complained that their preparations were being hampered by the late arrival of evidence from the 2018 federal investigation that sent his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to prison.

Local prosecutors denied any wrongdoing and blamed Trump’s lawyers for bringing the time crunch upon themselves by waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the records from the U.S. attorney’s office—a mere nine weeks before jury selection was supposed to start.

They also said there was little new material in the documents trove and no reason for further delay, with prosecutor Matthew Colangelo asserting in court Monday that the number of relevant, usable, new documents “is quite small”—around 300 records or fewer.

“We very much disagree,” countered defense lawyer Todd Blanche, who said the number totaled in the thousands and continues to grow. Trump’s lawyers argued that the delayed disclosures warranted dismissing the case or at least pushing it off three months.

“We’re not doing our jobs if we don’t independently review the materials,” Blanche said. “Every document is important.”

But Merchan was unmoved.

“That you don’t have a case right now is really disconcerting because the allegation that the defense makes in all of your papers is incredibly serious. Unbelievably serious,” Merchan said. “You’re accusing the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the people involved in this case of prosecutorial misconduct and of trying to make me complicit in it. And you don’t have a single cite to support that position.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he falsified business records. Manhattan prosecutors say Trump did it as part of an effort to protect his 2016 campaign by burying what he says were false stories of extramarital sex. Trump on Monday repeated to reporters his claims that the case is a “witch hunt” and “hoax.” The prosecutor overseeing the case, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, is a Democrat.

Prosecutors allege that Trump falsely logged $130,000 in payments as legal fees in his company’s books. The money went to Cohen, Trump’s then-personal attorney, but prosecutors say it wasn’t for actual legal work. Rather, they say, Cohen was just recouping money he’d paid porn actor Stormy Daniels on Trump’s behalf, so she wouldn’t publicize her claim of a sexual encounter with him years earlier.

Trump’s lawyers say the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses, not cover-up checks.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges, including campaign finance violations related to the Daniels payoff. He said Trump directed him to arrange it, and federal prosecutors indicated they believed him, but they never charged Trump with any crime related to the matter.

Cohen is now a key witness in Manhattan prosecutors’ case against Trump.

Trump’s lawyers have said Bragg’s office, in June, gave them a smidgen of materials from that federal investigation. Then they got over 100,000 pages more after subpoenaing federal prosecutors themselves in January. The defense argued that prosecutors should have pursued all the records but instead stuck their heads in the sand, hoping to keep information from Trump.

The material hasn’t been made public. But Trump’s lawyers said in a court filing that some of it is “exculpatory and favorable to the defense,” adding that there’s information that would have aided their own investigation and consequential legal filings earlier in the case.

Bragg’s deputies have insisted they “engaged in good-faith and diligent efforts to obtain relevant information” from the federal probe. They argued in court filings that Trump’s lawyers should have spoken up earlier if they believed those efforts were lacking.

Prosecutors maintain that, in any event, the vast majority of what ultimately came is irrelevant, duplicative or backs up existing evidence about Cohen’s well-known federal conviction.

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jennifer Peltz, Philip Marcelo and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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