Judge denies Trump lawyers’ second request for mistrial in hush-money case

Judge indicates Trump legal team to blame for allowing Stormy Daniels to give vivid details about alleged sexual encounter with Trump

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal case in Manhattan castigated the former president’s lawyers on Thursday and denied their second request for a mistrial this week.

Judge Juan Merchan indicated Mr Trump’s lawyers were to blame for allowing Stormy Daniels, an adult film star, to describe lurid details about her alleged sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, including testimony that Ms Daniels nearly blacked out and that Mr Trump did not wear a condom.

Mr Trump’s attorneys have now twice used the testimony to request a mistrial, saying it biases the jury and is irrelevant to whether the former president committed the felony of falsifying business records. “It’s a dog-whistle for rape,” Trump attorney Todd Blanche said on Thursday.

But Judge Merchan said Mr Blanche and Trump’s legal team had invited the salacious details to be made public in the case. In his opening statement, Mr Blanche had said the sexual affair never happened, effectively asking the jury to believe either Mr Trump or Ms Daniels, the judge said. The details Ms Daniels could offer, Judge Merchan said, spoke to the credibility.


“Your denial puts the jury in a position of having to choose who they believe: Donald Trump, who denies there was an encounter, or Stormy Daniels, who says that there was,” Judge Merchan said. “These details add a sense of credibility if the jury chooses to believe them.”

The judge also criticised Trump attorney Susan Necheles for not objecting when Ms Daniels was asked whether Mr Trump used a condom.

“Why on earth she wouldn’t object to the mention of a condom, I don’t understand,” he said.

The judge declined to modify a gag order that prohibits Mr Trump from attacking witnesses, including Ms Daniels, and jurors.

Mr Blanche said it was unfair that Mr Trump was not going to be given a chance to respond to attacks against him. “As we’ve said repeatedly, he needs an opportunity to respond to the American people,” he said.

But Judge Merchan denied that request, saying that even if he lifted the gag order with respect to Ms Daniels, who has now finished testifying, he was concerned about the message it would send to other witnesses.

“Other witnesses, including not only Michael Cohen, will see your client doing whatever it is he intends to do,” he said. “The reason the gag order is in place to begin with is precisely because of the nature of these attacks. The nature, the vitriol ... your client’s track record speaks for itself here.”

The judge’s decision came at the end of a day in which Mr Trump’s lawyers spent hours seeking to undermine Ms Daniels’s credibility, pressing on her motivations for agreeing to a hush-money payment as she continued critical testimony.

Ms Necheles asked Ms Daniels to explain why she did not go public with her story in the waning days of the 2016 campaign and instead sought to get paid for it. Ms Necheles also suggested Ms Daniels wanted to hurt Mr Trump because he opposed gay marriage and abortion.

Ms Daniels, who insisted she wanted to give a press conference in 2016, said, “I wanted the truth to come out”, adding that she wanted a paper trail. “I never asked for money from anyone in particular; I asked for money to tell my story.”

Mr Trump has been charged with 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection with payments his lawyer Michael Cohen made to Daniels in 2016 to prevent her from speaking publicly about their alleged affair.

The hush-money case is the first of four criminal cases to reach a jury against the former president, but the other three have hit serious delays, which could perhaps prevent them from starting before November’s presidential election. – Guardian