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Trump abandons his bid to move his New York hush-money criminal case from state to federal court

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has given up on his monthslong fight to move his New York hush-money criminal case to federal court, agreeing to proceed in a state court that he contends is “very unfair” to him.

The former president’s lawyers said in court papers Wednesday that they were dropping an appeal that sought to have a Manhattan federal court take control of the case, which is one of four criminal indictments against him.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in state court on March 25, 2024, though the judge has suggested that could change given Trump’s busy legal calendar.

Trump’s lawyers first asked to move the case to federal court in May, arguing that some of Trump's alleged conduct amounted to official duties because it occurred in 2017 while he was president. That included checks he purportedly wrote while sitting in the Oval Office.

They appealed in June after U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled that Trump had failed to meet a high legal bar to move the case.

U.S. law allows criminal prosecutions to be moved from state to federal court if they involve actions taken by federal government officials as part of their official duties. Hellerstein ruled that the hush-money case involved a personal matter, not presidential duties.

Trump’s lawyers gave notice that they were dropping the appeal a day before a deadline to file paperwork with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stating why they felt Hellerstein’s ruling should be overturned.

They said they were doing so with prejudice, meaning Trump will not be able to change his mind.

Messages seeking comment were left Trump lawyers Gedalia Stern and Todd Blanche. The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment.

Trump pleaded not guilty April 4 in state court to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records to hide reimbursements made to his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen for his role in paying $130,000 to the porn actor Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Cohen also arranged for the National Enquirer to pay Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 for the rights to her story about an alleged affair, which the supermarket tabloid then squelched in a dubious journalism practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Trump denied having sexual encounters with either woman. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up. The New York indictment was the first brought against Trump, making him the first former president charged with a crime. He was subsequently charged in Florida with hoarding classified documents and in Washington and Georgia in connection with attempts to subvert the Republican's 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

The hush-money case has proceeded in state court while the fight over moving it to federal court played out. Leaving it in state court could have significant legal and practical consequences.

Had the case been transferred to federal court, Trump’s lawyers could have tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official job duties. In state court, there is no such immunity.

In state court, the jury pool is limited to heavily Democratic Manhattan, where Trump is wildly unpopular. In federal court it’s more politically diverse, drawing also from suburban counties north of New York City where Trump has more political support.

In state court, Trump will also have to contend with a judge he has bashed as “a Trump-hating judge” with a family full of “Trump haters.” In August, Judge Juan Manuel Merchan rejected Trump’s demand to step aside from the case.

The hush-money case is scheduled to go to trial in the heat of the presidential primary season, just weeks after Trump’s his federal election interference case in Washington is set to begin.

The judge in that case has spoken with Merchan about a possible scheduling conflict because the Washington trial is scheduled to begin March 4, 2024. Trump’s lawyers have also asked Merchan to postpone the hush-money trial so they can focus on the election case.

Rather than deciding immediately, Merchan said he would wait until a February pretrial hearing to see if “there are any actual conflicts” requiring a delay.

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