NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump asked a federal appeals court Friday to reverse a federal judge’s decision to keep his hush-money criminal case in a New York state court that the former president claims is “very unfair” to him.
Trump’s lawyers filed a notice of appeal with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan after U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein last week rejected his bid to move the case to federal court, where his lawyers were primed to argue he was immune from prosecution.
U.S. law allows criminal prosecutions to be moved from state to federal court if they involve actions taken by federal government officials as part of their official duties, but Hellerstein ruled that the hush-money case involved a personal matter, not presidential duties.
Trump’s appeal notice came at the end of another busy week of legal action for the twice-indicted Republican as he seeks a return to the White House in next year’s election. On Thursday, he was indicted on new criminal charges in a separate case in federal court in Florida involving allegations that he illegally hoarded classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the hush-money case and fought to keep it in state court, declined to comment on Trump’s appeal.
Trump pleaded not guilty April 4 in state court to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements made to his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen for his role in paying $130,000 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.
Cohen also arranged for the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about an alleged affair, which the supermarket tabloid then squelched in a dubious journalism practice known as “catch-and-kill.”
Trump denied having sexual encounters with either woman. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.
He is scheduled to stand trial in state court on March 25, 2024. In the meantime, his lawyers have asked the state court judge presiding over the case, Juan Manuel Merchan, to step aside, arguing that he’s biased in part because his daughter does political consulting work for some of Trump’s Democratic rivals. Trump has referred to Merchan as “a Trump-hating judge” with a family full of “Trump haters.” The judge has yet to rule on the request.
In seeking to try the hush-money case tried in federal court, Trump’s lawyers have argued that some of his alleged conduct amounted to official presidential duties because it occurred in 2017 while he was president, including checks he purportedly wrote while sitting in the Oval Office.
Moving the case from state court to federal court would have significant legal and practical consequences for Trump. In federal court, for example, his lawyers could then try to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official job duties.
A shift to federal court would also mean a more politically diverse jury pool — drawing not only from heavily Democratic Manhattan, where Trump is wildly unpopular, but also from suburban counties north of the city where he has more political support.
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press