By MICHAEL R. SISAK (Associated Press)
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump threw up his hands in frustration on Tuesday as a judge scheduled his criminal trial for March 25, placing the former president and current candidate in a Manhattan courtroom amid the heat of action from next year’s presidential primary season.
Trump, appearing via video link at a preliminary hearing in the silence case, stared into the camera as Judge Juan Manuel Merchan advised him to waive all other obligations for the duration of the trial, which could last several weeks.
Trump, dressed in a blue suit against a backdrop of American flags at his Florida estate, then turned to a lawyer at his side – their brief discussion inaudible on the video feed – before sitting down with his arms crossed for the rest of the audience.
Trump said little during the hearing, but then lashed out on social media, writing, “I just had a hearing in New York County Supreme Court where I believe my rights of first amendment, “freedom of speech,” were violated, and they imposed a March 25 trial date on us, right in the middle of the primary season.
“Very unfair, but that’s exactly what the radical left Democrats wanted,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “It’s called ELECTORAL INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our country before!!!”
Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to silent payments made during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations that he had extramarital sex. He denied wrongdoing.
Merchan said he arrived at the March 25 trial date after discussions with Trump’s attorneys and prosecutors. Trump’s attorney, Susan Necheles, said Trump was aware of the date before Tuesday’s hearing and said she didn’t see his exasperated reaction.
Trump’s case is pending in state court even as his attorneys seek to have it transferred to federal court because some of the alleged conduct occurred while he was president. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has until next week to file paperwork indicating why he should remain in state court, where the landmark indictment was brought.
Trump has placed the New York case and the long list of other investigations into his personal, professional and presidential conduct at the heart of his campaign to reclaim the White House in 2024. The Republican has cast himself as the victim of an effort coordinated and politically motivated to smear his chances.
Trump often discusses the cases at his rallies, in speeches, television and social media appearances. He has repeatedly attacked prosecutors, accusers and judges by name, including Merchan, and shown no willingness to back down – even after a recent $5million verdict in a lawsuit for sexual abuse and defamation against him.
The plaintiff in that case, writer E. Jean Carroll, filed a new claim Monday seeking an additional $10 million or more to hold Trump accountable for remarks he made disparaging her on CNN the day after the Sept. 9 verdict. may.
Trump responded on Tuesday by doubling down on his claim that Carroll’s allegations were a “made up fake story” and a “total scam” and that his case is “part of the Democrats’ playbook to tarnish my name and person.”
Merchan spent most of Tuesday’s 15-minute hearing reviewing an order he issued May 8 that sets out ground rules for Trump’s behavior ahead of the trial.
This is not a gag order and Trump is free to speak about the case and defend himself, Merchan said, but he cannot use evidence turned over by prosecutors to attack witnesses or release sensitive documents on social networks. If he violates the order, he risks being held in contempt.
Among the concerns raised by prosecutors was that Trump could weaponize ‘highly personal information’ found on witnesses’ cellphones, such as personal photos and text messages with family and friends, as well as testimonies. grand jury secrets and other documents, to stir up anger among his supporters.
Nothing in the order prevents Trump from being able to speak “forcefully and persuasively” in his defense without needing to “begin attacking individuals, disclosing names, addresses, cell phone numbers, identity, dates of birth or anything to that effect”. said Mercan. Some sensitive documents shared by prosecutors should only be kept by Trump’s lawyers, not by Trump himself.
Prosecutors sought the order shortly after Trump’s arrest, citing what they say is his history of making “harassing, embarrassing and threatening statements” about people with whom he is embroiled in legal disputes.
Trump was spared a personal courthouse appearance on Tuesday, avoiding the massive security and logistical challenges that accompanied his impeachment last month. Instead, the Republican was connected by videoconference, with his face broadcast on television screens placed around the courtroom.
Trump is not required to appear in court again in person until Jan. 4, just weeks before the first primary votes are supposed to be cast.
Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report. __
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