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Judge says Trump’s lawyers can’t force NBC to turn over materials related to ‘Stormy’ documentary

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyers were blocked Friday from forcing NBC to provide them with materials related to the TV network’s recent documentary about porn actor Stormy Daniels, a key prosecution witness at the former president’s upcoming hush-money criminal trial in New York.

Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan said the defense’s subpoena for NBC Universal was “the very definition of a fishing expedition” and did not meet a heavy legal burden for requiring a news organization to provide unfettered access to its privileged notes and documents.

It’s the latest defeat for Trump’s legal team ahead of the April 15 trial, the first of Trump’s four criminal cases scheduled to go to trial and the first-ever for a former president.

On Wednesday, Merchan rejected the presumptive Republican nominee’s request to delay the trial until the Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases. The judge declared that request untimely and chided Trump’s lawyers for waiting until weeks before the trial to raise the immunity issue. Several other bids to delay are pending.

Trump lawyer Todd Blanche and the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. NBC Universal also declined to comment.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during the 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid 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, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

Cohen turned against Trump during a 2018 federal investigation into the hush-money matter that landed the ex-lawyer behind bars. He is now an outspoken critic of his former boss and is also poised to be a witness against Trump at the New York trial.

Trump’s lawyers fought unsuccessfully to block Cohen and Daniels from testifying and have blamed them for driving negative news coverage of Trump. In recent court filings, they pointed to Cohen’s withering, sometimes crude criticism of Trump on his podcasts and social media feeds, and to publicity surrounding the release of the documentary “Stormy,” which premiered on NBC’s Peacock streaming service on March 18.

Trump’s lawyers subpoenaed NBC Universal on March 11, seeking all documents related to the production, editing, marketing and release of the documentary, as well as any compensation Daniels received, and any agreements between her and the network.

They argued the subpoena would yield evidence that NBC Universal and Daniels colluded to release the documentary as close to the start of the trial as possible to prejudice Trump and maximize their own financial interests.

An NBC executive denied those claims, saying in a court filing that Daniels had no approval over the documentary’s content or the timing of its release. Trump’s trial was originally scheduled to begin on March 25, a week after the documentary premiered, but an unrelated evidence issue prompted Merchan to delay it until April 15.

NBC Universal asked the court to reject the subpoena on March 20, filing what’s known as a motion to quash. After more legal wrangling between Trump’s lawyers and counsel for NBC, Merchan issued his ruling Friday granting the network’s request.

In a four-page decision, the judge wrote that the defense subpoena was “far too broad” and that its collusion claims were “purely speculative and unsupported” by any evidence.

Merchan wrote that even if he had found that the defense’s assertions were not speculative, he still would have blocked the subpoena because it sought to “rifle through the privileged documents of a news organization.”

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Follow Sisak at x.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/

Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press



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