Donald Trump makes video court appearance in Stormy Daniels hush money case
Donald Trump made a video appearance at a New York court on Tuesday in a criminal case which made him the first former US president to be charged.
The case centres around allegations the former US president authorised ‘hush money’ payments to bury allegations of an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election campaign.
The judge in the case set the date for trial as March 25, which would fall during next year’s presidential primary season. The 76-year-old has already announced his intention to seek the presidency in 2024.
Mr Trump, the only US president to be impeached twice, denied wrongdoing last month.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Manhattan Judge Juan Merchan reviewed an order barring Trump from publicly disseminating certain evidence turned over by prosecutors.
He was spared a personal appearance at the courthouse, avoiding the mammoth security and logistical challenges that accompanied his arraignment last month.
Instead, the Republican was connected by video conference, with his face beamed onto courtroom TV monitors.
The judge’s order allows Mr Trump to speak publicly about the criminal case.
However, he risks being held in contempt if he uses evidence turned over by prosecutors to target witnesses or others involved in the case.
He pleaded not guilty on April 4 to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to payments his company made to his former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Prosecutors claim those payments were intended to reimburse and compensate Cohen for orchestrating hush money payments during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations of extramarital sexual encounters.
Mr Trump denies having had extramarital flings and says the prosecution is politically motivated.
The judge’s order bars Mr Trump and his lawyers from disseminating evidence to third parties or posting it to social media.
It also requires that certain, sensitive material shared by prosecutors be kept only by Mr Trump’s lawyers, not Mr Trump himself.
Prosecutors sought the order soon after Mr Trump’s arrest, citing what they say is his history of making “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements" about people with whom he is involved in legal disputes.
Judge Merchan, noting Trump’s “special" status as a former president and current candidate, has made clear that the protective order shouldn’t be construed as a gag order and that Mr Trump has a right to publicly defend himself.
Mr Trump’s lawyers are seeking to have his criminal case moved to federal court. It will continue in state court while that plays out.