Former President Donald Trump appeared virtually in a New York criminal court on Tuesday for the first time since pleading not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. During the hearing, Judge Juan Merchan outlined the terms of a protective order, preventing Trump from publicly disclosing evidence related to the hush money payments case. The trial date was set for March 25, 2024, which falls during the primary season in many states.
Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, expressed concerns about potential violations of Trump’s First Amendment rights but the judge assured that the order was not intended to hinder Trump’s ability to campaign for the presidency. The judge emphasized that Trump is free to deny and defend himself against the charges.
Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to express his dissatisfaction with the protective order and the trial date, claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated and that it constituted election interference by the “Radical Left Democrats.”
Prosecutors argued for the virtual appearance to prevent Trump from releasing confidential information and later claiming ignorance of the order’s terms. Violating the order could result in sanctions, including a finding of contempt.
Trump’s lawyers contended that the protective order was overly restrictive and would muzzle a leading contender for the presidency. However, the judge largely ruled in favor of the district attorney’s office, imposing restrictions on the dissemination of evidence.
The charges against Trump involve falsifying business records related to hush money payments made to Stormy Daniels and another woman during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump maintains his innocence and denies any extramarital affairs.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, pleaded guilty to charges related to the hush money payments and has been cooperating with the district attorney’s office. Cohen expressed doubt that Trump would comply with the terms of the protective order, citing his anger and lack of self-control.
The district attorney’s office rejected a request from Trump’s legal team for more information regarding the legal basis for charging the falsified records as a felony. Prosecutors stated that they have already provided more evidence than required by law and that Trump’s lawyers are not entitled to additional information.
Trump has characterized the criminal case as a partisan “witch hunt” and has sought to have the case transferred to federal court.