Trump Criminal Case Likely to Remain in N.Y. State Court, Judge Says


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A judge on Tuesday indicated that he was likely to deny a request from lawyers for Donald J. Trump to move a New York State criminal case against the former president to federal court.

The federal judge, Alvin K. Hellerstein, said that he would issue a written ruling within two weeks, but was inclined not to transfer the case brought by the Manhattan district attorney’s office which stems from a hush-money payment before the 2016 presidential election.

“There is no reason to believe that an equal measure of justice couldn’t be rendered by the state court,” Judge Hellerstein said, after calling a central argument made by one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers “far-fetched.”

After the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, unveiled the 34 felony charges against Mr. Trump in March, lawyers for the former president argued that the proper venue was federal court, in part because the conduct had occurred while Mr. Trump was in office.

The payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, was made on Mr. Trump’s behalf by his former fixer, Michael D. Cohen, to buy her silence about a tryst she said she had with Mr. Trump. Once Mr. Trump was elected, he reimbursed Mr. Cohen. Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors have accused Mr. Trump of falsifying business records to disguise the purpose of the reimbursements.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers would have had to convince Judge Hellerstein, who sits in Manhattan, that the accusations were related in some way to Mr. Trump’s official duties as president.

Todd Blanche, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, argued that any work that Mr. Cohen did would have been related to Mr. Trump’s presidency: He said that Mr. Trump hired Mr. Cohen — who had been his longtime fixer — as a personal lawyer to ensure that he was fulfilling his constitutional duties.

Matthew Colangelo, a prosecutor for the district attorney’s office, argued that Mr. Cohen’s hiring demonstrated the opposite. “These are personal payments to a personal lawyer handling his personal affairs.”

Judge Hellerstein appeared to agree, saying that it was “very clear” that the act for which Mr. Trump had been indicted did not relate to the presidency. At one point, in a phrase that echoed Mr. Colangelo, the judge said of Mr. Cohen that “he was hired as a private matter to take care of private matters.”

The judge said that his closing remarks from the bench were not binding, but that they would “presage” his ruling. If he rules as he suggested he would, the case would proceed as expected in state court, where a trial has been scheduled for March 25.

A preview of how that trial might play out came during the hearing when Mr. Blanche unexpectedly called a witness to testify about Mr. Cohen’s role when he worked as a personal lawyer to Mr. Trump. He was trying to show how that role related to the official duties of the presidency.

The witness, Alan Garten, the chief legal officer of the Trump Organization, was then cross-examined by Susan Hoffinger, the head of investigations at the district attorney’s office.

Ms. Hoffinger tried to show that the arrangement with Mr. Cohen — without a retainer and with payments whose purpose was recorded without any description of the work involved in Mr. Trump’s ledger — was atypical. Mr. Garten acknowledged that it was irregular, but said that such arrangements did happen “from time to time.”


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