Trump Judge Says Hush Money Is Outside Presidential Duties

Former president loses attempt to move case to federal court
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 19, 2023 7:05 PM CDT
Judge Tells Trump Hush Money Is Outside Presidential Duties
Former President Donald Trump is escorted into a courtroom on April 4 in New York.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected Donald Trump's bid to move his hush money criminal case from New York state court to federal court, ruling that the former president had failed to meet a high legal bar for changing jurisdiction. US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein found that the allegations in the Manhattan case pertained to Trump's personal life, not presidential duties that would have merited a move to federal court. "The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely a personal item of the President—a cover-up of an embarrassing event," Hellerstein wrote in his ruling, the AP reports. "Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President's official acts. It does not reflect in any way the color of the President's official duties."

Hellerstein's decision sets the stage for Trump to stand trial in state court in Manhattan as early as next spring. The Manhattan district attorney's office, which is prosecuting the hush money case and fought to keep it in state court, said it was pleased with Hellerstein's decision. Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche, declined to comment. The ruling can be appealed to the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals. Hellerstein signaled his decision at a June 27 hearing where he scoffed at defense claims that the alleged conduct at the root of Trump's charges—reimbursing his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen as part of a scheme to bury affair allegations that arose during his first campaign—was within the "color of his office" as president.

In his 25-page ruling, the judge said evidence strongly supported the prosecution's contention that the money paid to Cohen was reimbursement for a hush money payment. Trump pleaded not guilty April 4 in state court to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements made to 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. Trump denied having sexual encounters with either woman. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any coverup.

(Read more Donald Trump stories.)

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