Prosecutors Say They're Open to Delaying Donald Trump's March 25 Hush-Money Trial for a Month

NEW YORK (AP) -- New York prosecutors said Thursday they are open to delaying the start of Donald Trump's hush-money criminal trial by a month "in an abundance of caution" to give the former president's lawyers time to review evidence they only recently obtained from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

The Manhattan district attorney's office said in a court filing that it does not oppose adjourning the trial for 30 days but would fight the defense's push for a longer delay. Judge Juan Manuel Merchan did not immediately rule.

Jury selection is scheduled for March 25. The hush-money case is one of four criminal indictments against Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Trump's legal team said it has received tens of thousands of pages of evidence from the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan in the last two weeks, including records about former Trump lawyer-turned-prosecution witness Michael Cohen that are "exculpatory and favorable to the defense." Prosecutors said most of the newly turned over material is "largely irrelevant to the subject matter of this case," though some records are pertinent.

Trump's lawyers want a 90-day delay, but they've also asked Merchan to dismiss the case entirely, alleging the last-minute disclosures amounted to prosecutorial misconduct and violated rules governing the sharing of evidence. That process, called discovery, is routine in criminal cases and is intended to help ensure a fair trial.

Prosecutors contend Trump's lawyers caused the problem by waiting until Jan. 18 to subpoena the U.S. attorney's office for the full case file -- a mere nine weeks before the scheduled start of jury selection.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office said it requested the full file last year, but the U.S. attorney's office only turned over a subset of records. Trump's lawyers received that material last June and had ample time to seek additional evidence from the federal probe, the D.A.'s office said.

Short trial delays because of issues with evidence aren't unusual, but any delay in a case involving Trump would be significant, with trial dates in his other criminal cases up in the air and Election Day less than eight months away.

The defense has also sought to delay the trial until after the Supreme Court rules on Trump's presidential immunity claims, which his lawyers say could apply to some of the allegations and evidence in the hush-money case. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments April 25.

Arlo Devlin-Brown, a former chief of public corruption for the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan, said prosecutors may be acquiescing to a delay because they recognize the amount of material is substantial and want to stake out a position they think Merchan will find reasonable.

"The Trump team likely views this as quite a positive on two fronts: They're getting a trove of documents, some of which may be useful, and they're getting more time," said Devlin-Brown, who is not involved in the hush-money case.

Since March 4, Trump's lawyers have received more than 100,000 pages of records from the U.S. attorney's office, including a batch of 31,000 pages on Wednesday, according to a court filing. More material is expected to be turned over in the coming days.

The hush-money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company's records to hide the true nature of payments to Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

Trump has repeatedly sought to postpone his criminal trials while he campaigns to retake the White House.

"We want delays," Trump told reporters as he headed into a Feb. 15 hearing in New York case. "Obviously I'm running for election. How can you run for election if you're sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?"

At that hearing, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo complained that Trump was attempting to use his complicated legal calendar "to evade accountability" by seeking delays.

But Manhattan prosecutors' new willingness to bump the trial comes about a week after another document dump prompted them to abandon another high-profile case in the midst of a trial -- a fact Trump's lawyers hardly missed.

Three men were abruptly cleared March 6 of an alleged scheme involving the possession of handwritten drafts of lyrics to "Hotel California" and other Eagles classics. The startling turn came after prosecutors and defense lawyers were suddenly given 6,000 pages of material involving band co-founder Don Henley, his lawyers and associates.

It happened after Henley, the prosecution's key witness, apparently decided late in the game to give up his right to keep communications with his attorneys private. He and others had already testified. After defense lawyers said the material belatedly raised questions they could no longer ask him and other witnesses, prosecutors agreed to drop the case.

Trump's lawyers drew a parallel. They wrote that in his case, too, prosecutors "should have recognized that they do not have a complete understanding of their witnesses and that material existed that they needed to collect."

The deluge of evidence in Trump's case pertains to the federal investigation that sent Cohen to prison.

After a decade of working for Trump, Cohen broke with him in 2018 and soon pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to the hush-money payments, making false statements on a bank loan application, evading taxes related to his investments in the taxi industry and lying to Congress.

Cohen went to prison for about a year before being released to home confinement because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He became an outspoken Trump foe and is poised to be a key prosecution witness against Trump. Trump and his lawyers, meanwhile, contend Cohen is completely untrustworthy.

In their case against Cohen, federal prosecutors said the hush-money payments were made to benefit Trump and occurred with his knowledge -- but they stopped short of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime.

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice and guidance to federal agencies, has maintained that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Federal prosecutors didn't revive their investigation once Trump left the White House.