By MICHAEL R. SISAK (Associated Press)
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump made a video appearance in a New York courtroom on Tuesday where the judge tentatively scheduled the former president’s trial for March 25, a date that would fall in the heat of the news. presidential primary season.
Trump had pleaded not guilty last month to 34 counts of falsifying business records.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan considered an order barring Trump from publicly releasing certain evidence given by prosecutors.
Trump was spared a personal courthouse appearance, avoiding the massive security and logistical challenges that accompanied his impeachment last month. Instead, the Republican was connected by videoconference, with his face projected onto the courtroom television screens.
Trump is allowed to speak publicly about the criminal case, according to Merchan’s order, but he risks being scorned if he uses evidence handed over by prosecutors as part of the pretrial discovery process to target witnesses or others involved in the case.
Trump pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 counts of falsifying business records related to payments his company made to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Prosecutors say the payments were intended to repay and compensate Cohen for orchestrating silent payments during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations of extramarital sex. Trump denies having extramarital affairs and says the accusation is politically motivated.
Merchan’s protective order prohibits Trump and his lawyers from releasing evidence to third parties or posting it on social media, and it requires certain sensitive documents shared by prosecutors to be kept only by Trump’s lawyers, and 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.
Merchan, noting Trump’s “special” status as a former president and current candidate, made it clear that the protective order should not be construed as a gag order and that Trump had the right to publicly defend himself.
Trump’s lawyers are seeking to have his criminal case transferred to federal court. This will continue in state court while this unfolds.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.