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Judge denies Trump request to dismiss hush money case

A New York judge has denied Donald Trump’s request to dismiss criminal charges stemming from hush money paid to an adult film actress, paving the way for the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Mr Trump, 77, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 5 November election, has asked Justice Juan Merchan to toss a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records to cover up the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

Ahead of the hearing, Mr Trump repeated his claims that the case is politically motivated.

“They wouldn’t have brought this except for the fact – no way – except for the fact that I’m running for president and doing well,” he said in a hallway outside the courtroom.

Donald Trump said before the hearing that the case was only brought due to him running for president

The trial is scheduled to start on 25 March, before the three other criminal cases Mr Trump faces. He has pleaded not guilty.

A handful of protesters held signs denouncing Mr Trump and shouted “no dictators in the USA” outside the courthouse.

Mr Trump has used his frequent court dates to help raise money for his presidential campaign, though the strategy is seeing diminishing returns after he raked in millions around his first appearances last year.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat. He has pressed for the case to be dismissed, arguing that state laws do not apply to federal elections.

Mr Trump’s political and legal calendars are increasingly overlapping ahead of his expected rematch with Mr Biden, who defeated him in the 2020 election.

In a separate court hearing, Mr Trump’s lawyers will ask a Georgia judge to disqualify the prosecutor who charged him and several allies with crimes involving trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state. The prosecutor, Fani Willis, has admitted to having a romantic relationship with a lawyer on her team.

Mr Trump also faces federal charges in Washington over his efforts to overturn his election loss and in Florida over his handling of classified documents. Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty in all the cases.

The Manhattan case centres on former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels – whose real name is Stephanie Clifford – to prevent her from publicly speaking ahead of the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she has said she had with Mr Trump a decade earlier.

Stormy Daniels (L) and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (R)

Mr Trump has denied this occurred.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to violating federal campaign finance laws.

Prosecutors have said Mr Trump’s New York-based family real estate company recorded Mr Trump’s 2017 reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses, violating a state law against falsifying business records to conceal another crime.

In this case, prosecutors say Mr Trump was seeking to cover up federal campaign-finance law violations as well as violations of a state law that prohibits promoting a candidacy by unlawful means.

Mr Trump’s lawyers argue that he had been targeted for “selective prosecution.” Mr Bragg’s office says anyone else who behaved similarly would have been prosecuted, pointing to Cohen’s guilty plea.

Mr Trump’s lawyers also argued state prosecutors cannot use Mr Trump’s alleged concealment of federal election law violations to justify the false records charges, and that the state law does not apply to federal elections.

Mr Bragg’s office has said the business records falsification law was not restricted to cases involving state-level crimes, and that the state law applies to both federal and state elections.

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