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Trump's hush money trial should go forward, Manhattan district attorney says

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In court filings made public today, the Manhattan district attorney said there is no reason Donald Trump's criminal trial can't start next month. The former president is accused of 34 felonies in connection with covering up an alleged affair in the waning days of the 2016 campaign. DA Alvin Bragg had asked for a short delay last week, after federal prosecutors turned over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents to his office. But now Bragg says there wasn't much new in the documents and the trial should go forward. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been combing through those filings. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So this trial was supposed to start on Monday, March 25. Then Bragg asked for that delay. Remind us exactly which one of the many cases against Trump we are talking about here.

BERNSTEIN: So this investigation came from another case. It began almost six years ago during Trump's presidency, shortly after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to banks and to campaign finance violations that he said he'd undertaken, quote, "at the direction of a candidate for federal office." That was when the local DA began a parallel investigation of Donald Trump. After a lot of successful legal maneuvers to delay the DA's investigation, Trump was indicted in April of last year...

SHAPIRO: But...

BERNSTEIN: ...For falsifying business records.

SHAPIRO: ...If it's been a year since the indictment, why are we just learning of these documents from federal prosecutors now?

BERNSTEIN: So it wasn't until January of this year that Trump's attorneys subpoenaed the federal prosecutors who had secured Cohen's guilty plea. They wanted bank records, phone records, even interviews with Cohen about Russian interference in the 2016 election. So it took a couple of months to resolve all that, which brings us to last week. Because these documents were turned over so close to the trial date, Trump's lawyers cried foul, accusing the DA of deliberately holding back documents, and called for the case to be dismissed or for the trial to be delayed 90 days.

SHAPIRO: But how does the - DA Bragg respond to those charges that his office withheld documents?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So Bragg says he and his staff have bent over backwards to turn over all relevant materials to the defense and that the delay in this case came because Trump's lawyers didn't subpoena federal prosecutors until so late in the game. And the key thing that Bragg says is that in all of these records from federal prosecutors, only a fraction of them are relevant. For example, only 270 pages of Michael Cohen's phone records were new, and of those, most of them were inculpatory, Bragg says - that is, helpful to his case. Bragg also said, more broadly, Trump's motions are, quote, "a transparent attempt to shift the focus away from his own criminal conduct by pursuing remedies to which he is not entitled." Bragg called Trump's motion for dismissal part of a pattern of trying to evade liability by, among other things, promising death and destruction if indicted.

SHAPIRO: Well, if that's what Bragg says, how is Trump responding?

BERNSTEIN: Trump has pleaded not guilty. His campaign spokesman told reporters today Manhattan prosecutors, quote, "are still trying to explain away why they obfuscated and lied about these incredibly late disclosures." What you can see emerging in these papers is a record of Trump's lawyers trying to gather everything, everything that might in any way besmirch the DA or its witnesses. And because Trump himself isn't paying his lawyers - his campaign donors are - he has plenty of money to pursue this kind of strategy.

SHAPIRO: So I assume the trial is not going to start on Monday - any sense of when it will?

BERNSTEIN: No. We'll get a clearer picture. There's going to be a hearing on Monday, and Judge Juan Merchan will likely set a firm trial date, which is now very tentatively set for April 15.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Andrea Bernstein, thanks.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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Andrea Bernstein