Trump will be at hush money trial while Supreme Court hears immunity case

Donald Trump will be in a New York City courtroom when the US Supreme Court hears arguments in Washington over whether he should be immune from prosecution for actions he took during his time as president.

Jurors will hear more witness testimony from a veteran tabloid publisher, and Trump faces a looming decision over whether he violated a gag order imposed by the judge.

But he had asked to miss his criminal trial for the day so he could sit in on the high court’s special session, where the justices will weigh whether he can be prosecuted over his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss to President Joe Biden.

“We have a big case today,” Trump said during an early morning campaign stop in Manhattan to visit construction workers. “The judge isn’t allowing me to go.”

That request was denied by New York state Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the trial on the hush money scheme that was meant to prevent harmful stories about Trump from surfacing in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court is a big deal, and I can certainly appreciate why your client would want to be there, but a trial in New York Supreme Court … is also a big deal,” Judge Merchan told Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche last week when he denied the idea.

Though 200 miles apart – and entirely separate cases – the proceedings on Thursday were jumbled together in one big legal and political puzzle that has implications not just for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but for the American presidency.

In both instances, Trump is trying to get himself out of legal jeopardy as he makes another bid for the White House.

But the outcome of the Supreme Court case will have lasting implications for future presidents, because the justices will be answering the never-before-asked question of “whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office”.

The high court’s decision may not impact the New York City case, which hinges mostly on Trump’s conduct as a presidential candidate in 2016 — not as a president.

He faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with hush money payments meant to stifle embarrassing stories from surfacing. It is the first of four criminal cases against Trump to go before a jury.

Trump has maintained he is not guilty of any of the charges against him. In New York, he maintains the stories that were bought and squelched were false.

The New York trial resumes after a scheduled day off with more testimony from the Manhattan District Attorney’s first witness, David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer and a long-time friend of Trump’s who pledged to be his “eyes and ears” during his 2016 presidential campaign.

In testimony earlier this week, Mr Pecker explained how he and the tabloid parlayed rumour-mongering into splashy stories that smeared Trump’s opponents and, just as crucially, leveraged his connections to suppress stories about Trump, including a porn actor’s claim of an extramarital sexual encounter years earlier.

Mr Pecker traced the origins of their relationship to a 1980s meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and said the friendship bloomed alongside the success of the real estate developer’s TV show The Apprentice and the programme’s subsequent celebrity version.

Mr Pecker recounted how he promised then-candidate Trump that he would help suppress harmful stories and even arranged to purchase the silence of a doorman.

“I made the decision to purchase the story because of the potential embarrassment it had to the campaign and to Mr Trump,” Mr Pecker said of the doorman’s story that his publication later determined was not true.

Judge Merchan may also decide whether or not to hold Trump in contempt and fine him for violating a gag order that barred the Republican leader from making public statements about witnesses, jurors and others connected to the case.

Some of Trump’s recent online posts in question included one describing prosecution witnesses Michael Cohen, his former attorney, and Stormy Daniels, the porn actress, as “sleaze bags” and another repeating a false claim that liberal activists had tried to infiltrate the jury.

Judge Merchan criticised Mr Blanche this week for excusing the posts as Trump simply responding to political attacks and commenting on his experience with the criminal justice system.

“When your client is violating the gag order I expect more than one word,” Judge Merchan said.

A conviction by the jury in the hush money probe would not preclude Trump from becoming president again, but because it is a state case, he would not be able to pardon himself if found guilty.

The charge is punishable by up to four years in prison — though it is not clear if the judge would seek to put him behind bars.

The Supreme Court’s arguments, meanwhile, are related to charges in federal court in Washington, where Trump has been accused of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election.

The case stems from Trump’s attempts to have charges against him dismissed. Lower courts have found he cannot claim immunity for actions that, prosecutors say, illegally sought to interfere with the election results.

The high court is moving faster than usual in taking up the case, though not as quickly as special counsel Jack Smith wanted, raising questions about whether there will be time to hold a trial before the November election, if the justices agree with lower courts that Trump can be prosecuted.


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