A federal judge has rejected former President Donald Trump's request to move his bribery trial from New York criminal court to federal justice. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled that Trump did not justify the change of jurisdiction.
Hellerstein found that the arguments had to do with Trump's personal life, not with presidential duties that would have warranted passage to federal jurisdiction.
“The evidence strongly suggests that the issue was a purely personal matter for the president, a cover-up of an embarrassing event,” Hellerstein wrote in his 25-page ruling. “Paying money to silence an adult film star is not related to the official duties of a president. It in no way affects the character of the President's official duties."
Hellerstein's sentence paves the way for the trial to begin in Manhattan around April or May of next year, coinciding with the 2024 primary elections, which would mean a hectic period of legal activity when the Republican, accused in two criminal cases, tries to return to the White House.
In another case, a federal court in Florida is trying Trump for illegally withholding secret documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and obstructing the investigation. Prosecutors want the trial to start in December.
Trump's attorney, Todd Blanche, declined to comment on Hellerstein's sentence, which can be appealed in 2nd Circuit court in Manhattan.
The judge pre-empted his decision at a hearing late last month, alluding dismissively to defense arguments that the alleged conduct at the root of the allegations — reimbursing his personal lawyer Michael Cohen as part of a scheme to hide allegations of affairs that came to light during his first presidential campaign—was within the duties of his office as president.
According to Hellerstein, the evidence indicates that Cohen, who organized and paid some of the bribes, "was hired privately, not under the authority of or connected with a presidential office." There are invoices showing how much Cohen was paid, "but there is no proof of what he did," the judge said at the June 27 hearing.
Trump pleads not guilty in state court to 34 counts of falsifying business files to conceal refunds to Cohen for paying $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had an extramarital sexual relationship with Trump years earlier.