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Trump gambit to take his New York state hush money case federal looks doomed

The former president’s falsifying business records prosecution will likely proceed in state court.


UPDATE (July 19, 2023, 2:28 p.m. ET): A federal judge on Wednesday denied former President Donald Trump's bid to move his New York state hush money case to federal court.

Donald Trump’s quest to move his Manhattan hush money prosecution from state to federal court always looked like a long shot, at best. After a hearing in federal court on Tuesday, it appears the judge presiding over Trump’s removal motion agrees.

If so, Trump would be stuck in state court for his falsifying business records case. (The federal judge said he would issue his written ruling on the matter in the next two weeks.)

NBC News reported:

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein indicated Tuesday in New York City that he was likely to rule against Trump’s bid to relocate the criminal case to a federal courthouse.

Hellerstein repeatedly expressed skepticism of the argument put forth by Trump’s attorney: that the 2017 hush-money-related claims he was indicted on this year were connected to his role as president.

You could be forgiven for thinking the argument sounds a little ridiculous.

To succeed in his federal removal attempt, Trump’s legal team had to make that far-fetched claim, because he needs to show he was a federal officer now facing charges for conduct arising “under color of” his office. The Manhattan charges stem from Trump’s alleged coverup of his reimbursement to former fixer Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election to silence her about allegedly having sex with Trump years prior. (Trump has denied the allegations.)

Therefore, one way to look at Trump's removal attempt, as I previously put it: “Is it ‘presidential’ to falsify business records in connection with a porn star hush money scheme?”

Hellerstein, it seems, is poised to answer that obvious question in the negative. “It is very clear that the act for which the president has been indicted does not relate to anything under the color of his office,” Hellerstein reportedly told attorneys for Trump and the Manhattan district attorney’s office at the hearing.

Of course, we’ll need to see the federal judge's ruling to know what happens next. But it looks like Trump is stuck in state court with a judge, Juan Merchan, whom Trump has been whining about and wants off the case.

And so, while it might not be seen as his most pressing criminal matter — with a federal indictment already pending in Florida — the Republican presidential candidate is on track for a state court criminal trial next spring.

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