Donald Trump’s lawyers ask judge to walk away from criminal case, echoing allegations of political bias

NEW YORK (AP) — Hours after his historic impeachment this spring, Donald Trump took his anger out on the judge, complaining that he is “a Trump-hating judge” with a family full of “Trump haters.” .

On Friday, the former president’s lawyers doubled down on that criticism, demanding that Judge Juan Manuel Merchan withdraw from his New York criminal case over what they say is anti-Trump bias and a conflict of interests arising from her daughter’s work for some of them. Trump’s Democratic rivals.

Trump’s attorneys allege that Merchan, a respected Manhattan criminal court lawyer, tipped the scales in two other Trump-related cases by getting involved in plea bargains for Trump’s longtime chief financial officer and by forcing him to testify against Trump’s company in exchange for a five-month contract. prison sentence.

Trump attorneys Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche also asked Merchan to explain three political donations totaling $35 that were made to Democratic causes in his name during the 2020 election cycle.

In the New York case, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records. The charges relate to silent payments made during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations that Trump had extramarital sex. He denied wrongdoing.

Merchan did not respond to requests from The Associated Press asking him to confirm or deny whether he was the person who made the donations, which include $15 for President Joe Biden’s campaign against Trump, records show. federal campaign finance. Such contributions are generally prohibited by court rules.

The former president’s criminal case is “historic and it is important that the people of New York State and this nation have confidence in the impartiality of the jurist presiding over it,” Trump’s attorneys wrote in what is called a recusal motion.

The recusal decision lies with Merchan himself, who previously denied such a request when Trump’s company was on trial. Trump’s lawyers could also make a play to raise the issue on appeal if he is found guilty. Along with their motion, Trump’s lawyers submitted 42 pages of what it says is evidence of Merchan’s political bias.

The silence case continues in state court while Trump’s lawyers seek to transfer him to federal court, which would also eliminate Merchan from the legal equation. A federal judge has scheduled a June 27 hearing on the request.

A message seeking comment was left for Merchan. A spokesman for the New York State Court System, Lucian Chalfen, said that since the case is pending before the judge, “it would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Merchan has been respectful and extremely accommodating in his limited interactions with Trump and has refused to issue a gag order, even as the ex-president continued to pillory him, District Attorney Alvin Bragg and other people involved in the case. At a recent hearing, Merchan said he was “bending over backwards” to make sure he didn’t prevent Trump from having “every chance possible to advance his candidacy.”

Trump’s recusal motion expands on criticism he has leveled at Merchan and his family in statements and on his Truth Social platform.

Merchan’s daughter, Loren, is a political consultant whose firm has worked on campaigns for prominent Democrats, including Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and California Governor Gavin Newsom.

Trump, the leading contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, could face off against Biden again as he seeks to return to the White House. He and his allies seized on Merchan’s political ties by describing his lawsuit as part of a Democratic-led “witch hunt.”

“I have a Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family whose daughter worked for Kamala Harris,” Trump said in a speech at his Mar-a-Lago estate, hours after he was put in indicted on April 4.

Among other criticisms of Trump, he claimed that Merchan ‘pushed’ former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg into a guilty plea last summer and acted ‘viciously’ in presiding over Trump’s trial. company, which resulted in a conviction for tax evasion last December.

Merchan was heavily involved in the negotiations that led to Weisselberg’s plea that he circumvented taxes on benefits, including a Manhattan apartment and luxury cars. Merchan said he wished he could impose a harsher sentence after hearing Weisselberg’s testimony, particularly when he talked about his wife being paid $6,000 for no-show work to qualify for the benefits. social security benefits while her husband was earning a lot of money.

These cases were preludes to Trump’s historic indictment.

Trump’s case ended up in Merchan’s courtroom due to a rotation in which judges overseeing grand juries deal with any resulting cases, depending on the court system. Merchan also often handles financial matters and runs the Manhattan Mental Health Court, where some defendants have the opportunity to resolve their cases with treatment and supervision.

Merchan, 60, emigrated from Colombia at the age of 6 and grew up in New York. The first member of his family to go to university, he worked his way through school and earned a law degree from Hofstra University in 1994.

He was a Manhattan district attorney and worked in the state attorney general’s office before then-mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed him a family court judge in 2006. Three years later, Merchan was assigned to a trial court, which in New York is called the Supreme Court. .

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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