5 key moments from Trump’s Monday in court for hush money case

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Donald Trump’s defense team failed to persuade Judge Juan Merchan to add more time to the clock before the start of the trial in Trump’s New York hush money case, the former president shaking his head in apparent frustration during Monday’s hearing as the judge set a date next month for the start of jury selection. 

There was little to ease Trump’s mood inside the courtroom where the defense pleaded for time to parse the 170,000 pages of documents in the case handed over to them more than a week earlier.

The case relates to a $130,000 payment from former Trump fixer Michael Cohen to porn star Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with Trump, to allegedly buy her silence during the 2016 presidential campaign. The DA alleges Trump falsified business records to obscure the money used to repay Cohen for those payments.

Seated behind prosecutors in the courtroom was the top prosecutor who brought the case against Trump, District Attorney Alvin Bragg.  

The morning may have been a bit of a rollercoaster for the former president. In a separate court on Monday, Trump earned a major reprieve for the bond he was supposed to deliver as part of the civil case he lost.

Here’s what happened on Monday in Trump’s legal cases:

An April 15 trial date

Merchan set April 15 for jury selection to begin, three weeks away, setting in motion the start of a trial that Trump’s attorneys had hoped to delay further.  

Trump was livid 

In the courtroom, Trump didn’t hide how he feels about the case.

Before entering the courtroom, he called it a witch hunt” and “a hoax.” He furrowed his brow. He watched the judge press his defense counsel as the attorney argued for more time to review discovery documents. And he grew increasingly frustrated as the defense failed to persuade the judge that more time was needed to review documents in the case.

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Wearing a navy suit and red tie, Trump sat between his attorneys, his eyes bloodshot. But Trump didn’t have to be here to watch Merchan as the judge cited parts of the defense brief and prosecutors’ submissions before pressing his attorneys about the timing of their decision to raise their discovery concerns. When the trial begins in less than three weeks, he will be required to attend each day.

Bragg’s office had urged the judge not to delay the trial, arguing that just 300 of the 170,000 documents turned over by federal prosecutors are relevant to Trump’s defense.

Merchan said the charge by Trump’s lawyer was not convincing. “Why did you wait until two months before trial. Why didn’t you do it in June or July?” Merchan said. 

As Merchan spoke, Trump leaned back from the defense table and narrowed his gaze. Exiting the courtroom at the start of a 45-minute recess, Trump scowled and furrowed his brow. 

The optics inside the courtroom

Three Secret Service agents watched over the former president in the courtroom, drawing more attention to the historic nature of the case. 

Exiting the courtroom at the end of the hearing, Trump mouthed ‘thank you’ twice to a group of five women seated in a back row. It was unclear if the women were supporters of the former president. Asked, one of the women said no. But Trump had appeared to recognize the group locking eyes with them as he left for the day.

Earlier, as Bragg walked through the courtroom to take his seat behind the prosecutors’ bench, one of the women appeared to heckle him quietly.  

Judge pressed Trump’s lawyers

In a series of rapid-fire exchanges, Merchan pressed Blanche over the defense’s claims over the number of documents they needed to review, and prosecutors for Bragg disputed that they were “actively suppressing discovery,” as Trump’s team has alleged.  

Trump’s lead attorney turned in circles as the judge pressed him to answer the question of exactly how many documents relevant to the case the defense needed to review. 

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“Give me your best estimate. I realize you’re still going through it,” Merchan said.

“I mean thousands,” Blanche responded. “Thousands.”

Merchan urged Blanche to settle on a firm number. “2,000? 20,000?” he said.

“Tens of thousands is the answer, your honor,” said Blanche.

Trump watched the arguments closely, whispering to the attorneys around him after the back-and-forth grew heated, and Blanche, his attorney, returned to the table.  

At one point, Trump seemed to pass a message to Blanche, before his attorney stood to press the issue further with the judge, citing the Mueller probe, the Access Hollywood tape, and more. “We want to be accurate, every document is important,” Blanche insisted. 

Merchan was unpersuaded by the defense’s arguments. 

“It’s odd that we’re even here, and that we’ve taken this time,” he said.

Returning from recess, Merchan ruled that the DA’s office was not at fault for the late production of documents, and had made “diligent, good faith efforts” to provide the materials to the team. 

From the defense table, Trump shook his head.

Trump scored a win in fraud case

Trump scored a victory outside Merchan’s courtroom when a state appeals court ruled that he and his co-defendants in a New York civil fraud case could post a lower bond, slashing the judgment from $464 million to $175 million and delaying any possible move by Attorney General Letitia James to seize his assets.

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