Trump to face jurors in April before facing US voters in November


By Andy Sullivan and Nathan Layne

(Reuters) -A New York judge’s decision on Monday to set an April 15 trial date for Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money case ups the odds the former president will face at least one verdict that could complicate his bid to retake the White House on Nov. 5.

In another New York courtroom on Monday, a ruling in a separate case bought Trump some financial breathing room as he tries to build a campaign war chest and keep his real-estate empire intact.

The twin rulings highlighted the multiple legal perils that the Republican candidate faces as he tries to take back the White House from Democratic President Joe Biden.

In the hush-money case, Trump stands accused of criminally altering business records to cover up a $130,000 hush-money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels shortly before the 2016 election.

Trump’s lawyers say the payment was meant to spare himself and his family embarrassment, not to help him win the election.

After Justice Juan Merchan set the April 15 date, Trump boasted the case could bolster his campaign, telling reporters at one of his nearby properties: “It can also make me more popular because the people know it’s a scam.”

Trump accused Biden of waging a legal witch hunt against him and accused the judge of corruption without providing evidence of either.

Republican strategists say voters have grown accustomed to his norm-shattering behavior, but a guilty verdict could hurt his ability to win over swing voters who decide elections.

Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls have found that a quarter of Republicans and half of independents said they would not vote for Trump if a jury convicted him of a felony.

Trump has said he should not have to stand trial while running a political campaign, and his lawyers have filed a blizzard of motions to delay or derail the cases.

As it stands now, only the New York case is guaranteed to go to trial before November.

Trump also faces two criminal trials accusing him of trying to subvert his 2020 election loss to Biden, and another that accuses him of mishandling classified information after he left the White House in 2021.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

All of those cases involve weightier allegations than the New York case, which stems from attempts to cover up an alleged extramarital affair.

But voters might not know before November whether Trump is guilty of subverting democracy or violating national security by storing secrets in a bathroom.

The federal election-subversion case is on hold pending Supreme Court review, while another election-subversion case in Georgia was delayed for months due to questions about whether the prosecutor’s romantic relationship with another lawyer posed a conflict of interest. The federal documents case also has been delayed by Trump’s legal challenges.

In the New York hush money case, Trump’s lawyers won a few extra weeks to sort through evidence provided to the state by federal prosecutors who opted not to file charges after investigating Trump’s payment to Daniels.

But the judge denied their request for a further delay and set a trial date of April 15. That means the case could wrap up by the end of May.

No other former U.S. president, let alone one running for election again, has ever faced criminal charges. But Republican voters rallied behind Trump when the hush-money charges were filed a year ago, and opinion polls show him essentially tied with Biden at this point.

But that could change, strategists say.

“Republican voters don’t seem to be fazed by his legal problems, but independents and unaffiliated voters may be impacted by the proceedings and ultimately whether or not there’s a conviction,” said Jeanette Hoffman, a Republican consultant.

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Trump’s legal troubles also threaten his pocketbook, as he has racked up more than half a billion dollars in judgments, on top of mounting lawyers’ fees.

Trump faced a Monday deadline to pay a $454 million civil-fraud judgment, which he said he could not pay. New York authorities were poised to begin seizing his assets.

But a New York appeals court gave him 10 days to post a $175 million bond while he pursues an appeal. Trump said he would quickly come up with that money.

The decision makes it less likely that Trump will see trophy properties seized by authorities, or have to sell them off quickly for what he has called “fire sale” prices.

But it likely will do nothing to reduce his mounting legal bills, or help his presidential campaign cut into Biden’s substantial fundraising lead.

One of Trump’s fundraising groups spent $5.5 million on legal fees in February, draining money from his efforts to win the election.

He has posted a $91.6 million bond while appealing a defamation verdict for writer E. Jean Carroll, who says she raped him decades ago. Trump denies wrongdoing and has appealed.

His upcoming trial will keep him where many political candidates aim to be: in the headlines.

“The court actions today will not hurt the Trump campaign as much as many think, because Trump has mastered the art of earned media and has dominated the news for the past few months – even though he has largely been off the campaign trail,” said Brian Darling, a Republican strategist.

(Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Howard Goller)



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