Trump to become first former president to face criminal trial as court date set

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A New York judge has confirmed Donald Trump’s trial in the hush money case will take place next month, paving the way for the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

At a hearing on Thursday, Justice Juan Merchan denied Trump’s request to dismiss criminal charges stemming from hush money paid to an adult film actress.

Trump, 77, the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November US election, asked Justice Merchan to toss out a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records to cover up the $130,000 (£103,500) payment to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Justice Merchan took less than 10 minutes to deny his request. The trial is scheduled to start on 25 March.

Donald Trump at the court hearing in Manhattan (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Speaking outside of court ahead of the hearing, Trump repeated his claims that the case is politically motivated.

“Everything that I’ve heard and read – even from legal scholars – say there is absolutely no case here, there’s not a crime,” he said. “This is not a crime.”

Trump added that “if we look at what’s going on outside on the streets where violent crime is at an all-time high, I think it’s a great double standard” – but NPR reported on Monday that violent crime statistics in the US are actually falling.

Trump called the case was “election interference” that is “being run by Joe Biden’s White House”, although the the charges were brought in New York state by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, and that he is leading the 2024 race “by a lot”, despite the fact it is still primary season and the first debates aren’t scheduled until September.

Mr Trump is also awaiting a decision, possibly as early as Friday, in a New York civil fraud case that threatens his family business, the Trump Organization.

In a pre-trial ruling in late September, Trump and his namesake company were found to have committed fraud by overvaluing property repeatedly for years to gain benefits from lenders and insurers.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who led the civil lawsuit, is seeking $370m in penalties from Mr Trump, his business, his two older sons and two corporate executives.

The damages represent the biggest financial threat to Trump and his property empire.

New York Judge Arthur Engoron had postponed his ruling after initially saying he would aim to deliver a verdict on the potential $370m fine by 31 January.

Trump also faces charges in Washington and Georgia for his efforts to overturn his election loss, and this week in Florida he attended a closed procedural hearing for the trial on 20 May regarding his handling of classified documents.

He has denied wrongdoing in all of the cases against him.

Additional reporting by agencies

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