This is not good.
The endeavor of Donald Trump’s legal team to convince a judge to transfer the pending hush money trial from a state to a federal court, through the introduction of an unexpected witness, seems to have been unsuccessful.
According to Newsweek, during a hearing on Tuesday, District Judge Alvin Hellerstein displayed skepticism towards the arguments put forth by Trump’s lawyers. They claimed that the case involving falsifying business records should not be held in a state court, as it primarily focused on actions taken by the former president during his tenure.
In April, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges of falsifying business records. The allegations stemmed from his alleged instruction to his lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pay $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels in order to maintain secrecy about an alleged affair just before the 2016 presidential election.
The payment to Cohen was reimbursed and accounted for as legal fees by The Trump Organization. Trump denies having had a relationship with Daniels in 2006.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, contended that the payments to Cohen were accurate, as they were made while Cohen served as a “retainer” for the former president.
Judge Hellerstein, however, noted that Trump’s legal team failed to provide any additional evidence of legal services provided by Cohen in his capacity as special counsel to the president, apart from the reimbursement for the payment to Daniels. “There’s no proof of what he did,” remarked Hellerstein, as reported by CNN.
Blanche made an unexpected move by summoning Alan Garten, the chief legal officer of The Trump Organization, to testify. Garten stated that Trump had hired Cohen as his personal attorney in 2017, while he held office, to assist in separating personal matters from presidential affairs.
Garten also testified that The Trump Organization referred matters involving the president and then first lady Melania Trump to Cohen, including the $130,000 reimbursement.
However, MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin, who was present at the hearing, observed that Garten did not turn out to be the strong witness anticipated by Trump’s legal team. Rubin pointed out that Garten confirmed he had never seen a retainer agreement with Cohen and was unaware of the other services Cohen provided.
“He could not articulate exactly why Cohen was hired as Trump’s personal attorney except to say that he and Eric Trump wanted to ensure that they did not undermine Trump’s separation from the business, as advised by his lawyers at Morgan Lewis,” Rubin tweeted.
“There was an argument regarding whether Trump has a plausible federal defense based on preemption grounds, but once Hellerstein accepted the crux of the district attorney’s argument—that Cohen was Trump’s personal lawyer, paid with Trump’s personal funds, and handled personal affairs—the die was cast.”
Rubin also noted that Garten could not confirm some of the key points raised by Trump’s legal team and made certain damaging admissions during his testimony.
“It was a bold gamble that yielded no reward. And something tells me that tonight, Todd Blanche, Trump’s brightest new legal asset, is no longer feeling so confident,” Rubin wrote.