(NEW YORK) — It’s “starting to look like” the Trump Organization is trying to stall its upcoming criminal trial in New York until after the midterm elections, a judge said Monday during a pre-trial hearing.
Former President Donald Trump’s family real estate firm is scheduled to stand trial starting Oct. 24 for fraud and tax evasion.
“We are not delaying” the start of the trial, Judge Juan Merchan said Monday.
A prosecutor, Joshua Steinglass, had accused attorneys for the Trump Organization of “gamesmanship” by failing to disclose the names of expert witnesses the defense will call to testify, as required under the rules of discovery.
“The name of the game has been ‘Delay,"” Steinglass said.
Defense attorney Susan Necheles said she was “sandbagged” by the accusation, and explained that the defense’s approach to the case had changed after last month’s guilty plea by longtime Trump Organization CFO Allan Weisselberg.
Weisselberg pleaded guilty last month to all 15 counts in an indictment that accused him of failing to pay taxes on nearly $2 million in fringe benefits the Trump Organization allegedly paid him off the books. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to testify against the Trump Organization in next month’s trial.
“We are now restructuring our defense,” Necheles said. “This is all a result of Mr. Weisselberg pleading guilty.”
“The case against the Trump Organization is dramatically strengthened,” by the guilty plea, Steinglass claimed.
The judge gave the defense until next Monday to provide the names of the experts they would call to testify, what they would testify to, and how that testimony is relevant to the case.
The judge also told the defense not to make arguments to the jury that imply the company was charged by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office merely because it is owned by the former president.
“No selective prosecution,” Merchan said, adding he would also preclude arguments at trial that suggest this is a “novel” prosecution.
“Those are not defenses,” Merchan said. “I will have very little patience at trial.”
The trial is expected to last about a month.
Weisselberg’s plea agreement contains no requirement for the longtime CFO to cooperate in the criminal fraud case against Trump himself, which is separate from the case against the Trump Organization.
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