Judge sets March trial date in Trump’s New York hush-money case

A man in a dark suit and red tie stands near other men, also in suit and tie
Former President Trump arrives at Manhattan criminal court on Feb. 15, 2024.
(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Donald Trump’s hush-money trial will go ahead as scheduled with jury selection starting March 25, a New York judge ruled Thursday, turning aside demands for a delay from the former president’s defense lawyers who argued it would interfere with his campaign to retake the White House.

The decision means that the first of Trump’s four criminal prosecutions to proceed to trial is a case centered on allegations that he made payments to bury stories about extramarital affairs that emerged during his 2016 presidential run. Other cases charge him with plotting to overturn the results of the 2020 election and illegally hoarding classified documents at his Florida estate and obstructing justice.

In leaving the trial date intact, Judge Juan Manuel Merchan took advantage of a delay in a federal prosecution in Washington related to efforts to undo the election. That case, originally set for trial March 4, has been on hold pending the outcome of an appeal from Trump on the legally untested question of whether a former president enjoys immunity from prosecution for actions taken while in office.


Noting that he resisted defense lawyer requests from months ago to postpone the trial, Merchan said: “I’m glad I took that position because here we are — the D.C. case did not go forward.” He said he decided to stick with the trial date after speaking last week with the judge in the Washington trial, Tanya Chutkan.

The hush-money trial is expected to last up to six weeks, Merchan said.

Assuming the New York case remains on schedule, it will open just weeks after the Super Tuesday elections, colliding on the political calendar with a period during which Trump will be looking to sew up the Republican race and emerge as the presumptive nominee in this year’s presidential contest. His attorneys cited that schedule in vigorously objecting to the March trial date.

“We strenuously object to what is happening in this courtroom,” said defense lawyer Todd Blanche, adding that “the fact that we are now going to spend, President Trump is now going to spend, the next two months working on this trial instead of out on the campaign trial running for president is something that should not happen in this country.”

Trump made a similar case after leaving the courtroom, telling reporters that “instead of being in South Carolina and other states campaigning, I’m stuck here.”

“We’ll just have to figure it out,” he added. “I’ll be here during the day and I’ll be campaigning during the night.”

In fact, Trump has repeatedly attended court proceedings where his presence was not required and went to court Thursday voluntarily. The judge had said he could join remotely by video from Georgia, where he was contemplating attending a simultaneous hearing in his criminal case there.


Thursday marked Trump’s first return visit to court in the New York case since that historic indictment made him the first former president charged with a crime. Since then, he has also been indicted in Florida, Georgia and Washington.

The hearing was held amid a busy overlapping stretch of legal activity for the Republican presidential front-runner, who has increasingly made his court involvement part of his political campaign. On Monday, for instance, he voluntarily attended a closed hearing in a Florida case charging him with hoarding classified records.

A separate hearing was unfolding Thursday in Atlanta, where a judge was hearing arguments on whether to toss Fulton County Dist. Atty. Fani Willis off Georgia’s election interference case because of a personal relationship with a special prosecutor she hired.

In an extraordinary moment, a fiery Willis agreed to testify after a former friend and co-worker said Willis’ relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade began earlier than they had claimed. Willis and Wade both testified that they began dating in 2022, after he was hired as special prosecutor.

Willis’ attorneys had originally fought to keep her off the witness stand, but Willis said she was eager to set the record straight, saying, “it’s highly offensive when someone lies on you.”

“Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis said under questioning by defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant, who is seeking to have Willis and her office removed from the case.


No trial is scheduled in the Atlanta case. The classified documents case in Florida is set for trial May 20, but that date could be moved.

Chutkan officially delayed the Washington case last month, with the Supreme Court now weighing the immunity question. There’s no new date.

Trump is also awaiting a decision, possibly as early as Friday, in a New York civil fraud case that threatens to upend his real estate empire. If the judge rules against Trump, who is accused of inflating his wealth to deceive banks, insurers and others, he could be on the hook for millions of dollars in penalties, among other sanctions.

The New York hush-money case has long been considered arguably the least legally perilous of the four indictments Trump faces, with the alleged misconduct — generally known for years — seen by many as less grave than accusations of mishandling classified documents or plotting to subvert a presidential election.

Over the last year, the former president has lashed out at Merchan as a “Trump-hating judge,” asked him to step down from the case and sought to move the case from state court to federal court, all to no avail. Merchan has acknowledged making several small donations to Democrats, including $15 to Trump’s rival Joe Biden, but said he’s certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial.”

Along with clarifying the trial schedule, Merchan also rejected a request by Trump’s lawyers to throw out the case.


Trump is charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. Each count carries a potential punishment of up to four years in prison, but there is no guarantee that a conviction would result in prison time.

The case centers on payoffs to two women, porn actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, as well as to a Trump Tower doorman who claimed to have a story about Trump having a child out of wedlock. Trump says he didn’t have any of the alleged sexual encounters.

Trump’s lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels $130,000 and arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer supermarket tabloid to pay McDougal $150,000 in a practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Trump’s company then paid Cohen $420,000 and logged the payments as legal expenses, not reimbursements, prosecutors said. Bragg charged Trump last year with falsifying internal records kept by his company, the Trump Organization, to hide the true nature of payments.

Trump’s legal team has argued that no crime was committed.