Trump lawyers claim prosecutors want to ‘distract’ from hush money trial by ‘piling things on’ from other cases

Attorneys for Donald Trump told a judge overseeing the former president’s hush money trial on Friday that Manhattan prosecutors are merely trying to “distract” jurors and “pile things on” by introducing evidence from his string of other criminal and civil cases.

New York Justice Juan Merchan presided over a hearing to outline what prosecutors intend to ask Mr Trump if he chooses to testify at his criminal trial, including a defamation case and allegations of sexual abuse, a massive civil fraud judgment finding him liable for tens of millions of dollars, felony convictions targeting his business, and the dissolution of a namesake foundation used to boost his presidential campaign.

But the judge said that prosecutors’ request falls within the grounds of the so-called Sandoval hearing, during which a defendant with a history of misconduct or criminal acts who also plans to testify in his defence knows what they could be walking into.

Across his civil and criminal cases, Mr Trump’s legal team has tried to distance the former president from any allegations of wrongdoing.

Mr Trump has insisted he has done nothing wrong, and that the cases against him are a Democratic-led “election interference” conspiracy.

Judge Merchan will decide by Monday – when opening arguments in the hush money trial are expected to begin – on what materials prosecutors can use, if any, in an effort to undermine Mr Trump’s credibility on the stand.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with a so-called hush money scheme to pay off an adult film star to bury allegations of an alleged affair, a revelation that prosecutors claim posed a threat to his 2016 presidential election prospects.

The former president has volunteered to testify, opening the door for prosecutors to grill him about his previous alleged misconduct and cases.

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he returns to the courtroom following a break in his trial on Friday 19 April (AP)
Former President Donald Trump gestures as he returns to the courtroom following a break in his trial on Friday 19 April (AP)

Speaking at a press conference from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida last week, Mr Trump said: “Yeah, I would testify, absolutely. That’s not a trial. That’s a scam.”

A so-called Sandoval hearing intends to ensure that a criminal defendant is fully aware of what he could be asked on the stand, without being caught off guard with unexpected lines of questioning.

But bringing up unrelated findings from E Jean Carroll’s defamation case – in which Mr Trump was found liable for sexual abuse – would push “the salaciousness to another level,” and be “unduly prejudicial” in the hush money case, according to defence attorney Emil Bove.

In a filing outlining the claims they could introduce, Manhattan prosecutors state that “defendant sexually abused E Jean Carroll” and that a jury awarded her $2m “compensatory and punitive damages on her sexual abuse claim.”

Prosecutors said that Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial, in which he, his two eldest sons and their fellow Trump Organization executives were found liable for illegally inflating the value of company assets to obtain favourable terms from banks and insurers, will also be brought up if they are given the chance.

“What is the prosecution’s position?” Mr Bove asked. “Are they making arguments about sexual misconduct?”

The allegations outlined in Ms Carroll’s case, which stem from an alleged assault in the 1990s, are “too attenuated, too far back in time to call into question Trump’s credibility in this trial,” according to Mr Bove.

Prosecutors also want to address felony convictions involving the Trump Organization. Two subsidiaries of his company were convicted in 2022 on 17 counts, including criminal tax fraud, stemming from what prosecutors described as a years-long scheme to avoid paying payroll taxes by compensating top executives with lavish untaxed perks.

Mr Bove said that the case had nothing to do with Mr Trump.

Prosecutors also want to bring up the collapse of the Trump Foundation, which was dissolved by a court order in 2018, with a state decision finding that Mr Trump breached his fiduciary duties, including using his campaign to orchestrate fundraisers, the campaign directing the distribution of funds, and using the foundation to boost his campaign.