Trump’s Lawyer in New York Hush-Money Case Wants to Move Trial to Federal Court

(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump is seeking to move his criminal hush-money case to federal court, away from the state judge whom he’s accused of being biased against him.

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Trump’s lawyer, Todd Blanche, on Thursday afternoon filed papers formally requesting a transfer.

When Trump was indicted in late March, he posted on his social media platform that New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan “HATES ME” and called the judge’s wife “anti-Trump.” Trump has also accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, of politicizing the prosecution and is fighting the elected DA’s move to impose restrictions on how much the ex-president can publicly discuss evidence against him.

If Trump succeeds in moving the state case to Manhattan federal court, he wouldn’t rid himself of Bragg. But the charges, filed under state law, might end up being jointly handled by the US attorney’s office that originally investigated the matter – and which declined to charge Trump federally after securing a guilty plea from his former fixer, Michael Cohen.

Trump’s legal team may be seeking a tactical advantage by catching state prosecutors off guard. And Blanche, who is a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, may also be playing for a home-court advantage, in addition to replacing Merchan with a federal judge.

Under federal law in some instances, when a case is initially brought in state court, a defendant can seek to have a case “removed” to federal court if the criminal charges could have been brought there instead.

But Rebecca Roiphe, a former state and federal prosecutor who is now a professor at New York Law School, said the chance of Trump winning such a request to move the case from state to federal court was “very unlikely.”

“The removal statute applies in a narrow set of circumstances, none of which apply to Trump’s prosecution,” Roiphe said. “It seems like he is trying to make a selective prosecution argument that the state officials are biased against him.”

Trump Weighs Bid to Shift NY Criminal Case to Staten Island

Nicholas Biase, a spokesman for Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams, and Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Bragg, both declined to comment.

At a hearing Thursday, Merchan declined to rule on Bragg’s request for an order limiting what Trump can say publicly ahead of his trial, saying he wants the two sides to work out an agreement on conditions for a so-called protective order.

Trump’s lawyers complained that Bragg’s office was trying to impose what they viewed as essentially a “gag order” upon the former president as he runs for re-election.

“They cite extensively in their brief about public media statements and social media where President Trump has said extraordinarily mean things about individuals,” Blanche said. “They do this to prevent the defendant from talking,” he said.

Merchan wasn’t persuaded, saying, “Because he’s running for office are you saying he should be held to a different standard than any other defendant?”

The judge then said prosecutors were only asking for restrictions that are commonly imposed on defendants who come before him.

“Mr. Trump is different,” Merchan said. “He is a former president and he is running again. Obviously he is different, but I have to apply the law to him as I see it. In that regard, I’m bending over backward and straining to allow him to advance his candidacy and speak in furtherance of it. The last thing I want to do is infringe upon his or anyone else’s First Amendment rights.”

Merchan directed prosecutors and defense attorneys to submit to him a proposed order which he would later approve.

A state grand jury indicted Trump in March on 34 counts of falsifying business records for directing payments be made to Stormy Daniels, an adult-film actor, and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied the encounters.

Prior to the current case, Bragg’s office took up an investigation of Trump and prosecuted his longtime former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg and two of the former president’s companies for tax evasion, obtaining convictions of all three.

(Updates with legal expert’s comment.)

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