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Donald Trump asks appeals court to intervene in last-minute bid to delay hush-money criminal case

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump asked a New York appeals court on Monday to reverse his gag order and move his hush-money criminal trial out of Manhattan in an eleventh-hour bid for a delay just a week before it is scheduled to start.

A judge in the state’s mid-level appeals court was to hold an emergency hearing Monday afternoon after the former president’s lawyers filed paperwork challenging Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan’s pretrial rulings.

The documents themselves were placed under seal, but a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press they pertained to Trump’s gag order — recently expanded to prohibit comments about judge’s family — and the Republican’s desire to move the trial out of heavily Democratic Manhattan.

The person was not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

Messages seeking comment were left for Trump’s lawyers, the Manhattan district attorney’s office and a spokesperson for New York’s state court system.

Trump had pledged to appeal after Merchan ruled last month that the trial would begin April 15. His lawyers had pleaded to delay the trial at least until summer to give them more time to review late-arriving evidence from a prior federal investigation into the matter.

Merchan, who had already moved the trial from its original March 25 start date because of the evidence issue, said no further delays were warranted.

Trump’s lawyers filed their appeals Monday on two separate court dockets. One was styled as a lawsuit against Merchan, a legal mechanism allowing them to challenge his rulings.

In New York, judges can be sued over some judicial decisions under a state law known as Article 78. Trump has used the tactic before, including against the judge in his civil fraud case in an unsuccessful last-minute bid to delay that case last fall.

A clerk at the appeals court — the Appellate Division of the state’s trial court — said no documents were publicly available from either appeal docket.

Trump’s hush-money trial is the first of his four criminal indictments slated to go to trial and would be the first criminal trial ever of a former president.

Trump is accused of falsifying his company’s records to hide the nature of payments to his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 campaign. Cohen’s activities included paying porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses.

Trump’s move Monday is the latest escalation in his battles with Merchan.

The presumptive Republican nominee assailed the judge on social media after he imposed a gag order last month barring Trump from making public statements about jurors, witnesses and others connected the case. After Trump’s complaints, Merchan expanded the gag order to include members of his own family.

Last week, Trump renewed his request for the judge to step aside from the case, citing Merchan’s daughter’s work as the head of a firm whose clients have included his rival President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other Democrats.

The former president alleges the judge is biased against him and has a conflict of interest because of his daughter’s work. The judge rejected a similar request last August.

Trump has also made numerous other attempts to get the trial postponed, echoing a strategy he’s deployed in his other criminal cases. “We want delays,” Trump proclaimed to TV cameras outside a February pretrial hearing in his hush-money case.

Merchan last week rejected his request to delay the trial until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

The New York judge has yet to rule on another defense delay request, which claims that Trump won’t get a fair trial because of “prejudicial media coverage.” Trump has suggested on social media that the trial should be moved to Staten Island, the only New York City borough he won in 2016 and 2020.

Trump also filed an eve-of-trial lawsuit against the judge in his New York civil fraud case, accusing the jurist of repeatedly abusing his authority. Among other issues, Trump’s lawyers in that case complained that Judge Arthur Engoron had refused their request to delay the trial. Their suit was filed about three weeks before the trial was slated to begin.

A state appeals court rejected Trump’s claims, and the trial started as scheduled Oct. 2. Engoron, who decided that case without a jury, ruled that Trump, his company and key executives defrauded bankers and insurers by overstating his wealth in documents used to get loans and coverage. Trump denied any wrongdoing and is appealing the finding and over $454 million in penalties and interest.


Associated Press reporter Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

Michael R. Sisak And Jake Offenhartz, The Associated Press

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