National

Trump not immune from prosecution in criminal hush money case, judge rules

NEW YORK — Former President Donald Trump is not immune from prosecution in his New York hush money case, in part because he failed to invoke the defense in a timely fashion, the judge in the case ruled Wednesday.

Trump was "well aware" he could try to claim presidential immunity after he was indicted one year ago on charges of falsifying business records related to a hush payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, Judge Juan Merchan ruled. "Nonetheless, defendant chose not to raise the defense of presidential immunity until well past the 45-day period provided by statute," Merchan said.

Merchan avoided ruling on the merits of Trump's immunity claim, instead choosing to focus on the timing, which he said tested "this court's credulity."

"This Court finds that Defendant had myriad opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024," Merchan wrote.

The judge did draw a distinction between Trump's claim of presidential immunity in the New York case and in the federal election interference case, where Trump has argued he cannot be prosecuted for conduct that occurred while he was in office.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes up that argument at the end of the month.

In the hush money case, Merchan noted that Trump did not try to claim the alleged falsification of business records constituted an official act.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to get underway April 15 in New York City. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

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