Prosecutors can confront Trump about defamation and fraud if he testifies in hush money trial

Manhattan prosecutors can question Donald Trump about a blockbuster fraud ruling, gag order violations and the E Jean Carroll defamation verdicts if he chooses to testify in his hush money trial.

Before opening arguments on Monday morning, New York Justice Juan Merchan largely granted a request from the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to introduce lines of questioning around prior court rulings if the former president takes the stand to testify in his historic trial.

Under cross-examination, prosecutors can now bring up Mr Trump’s other cases where he was found liable for fraud and defamation.

Judge Merchan also will allow prosecutors to bring up his repeat violations of a gag order in a civil trial targeting allegations of fraud in his real estate empire.

A pair of federal court rulings that found Mr Trump liable for sexually abusing former Elle magazine columnist Ms Carroll will be off the table, however. Prosecutors also cannot bring up the total monetary damages – totalling tens of millions of dollars – facing Mr Trump in that case and the fraud ruling.

The judge’s determination, which followed a hearing on Friday afternoon, arrived moments before jurors were walked into the courtroom to hear opening arguments in the first-ever criminal trial of an American president.

Mr Trump is charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with a so-called hush money scheme to pay off an adult film star to bury allegations of an alleged affair, a revelation that prosecutors claim posed a threat to his 2016 presidential election prospects.

The former president has volunteered to testify, opening the door for prosecutors to grill him about his previous alleged misconduct.

Speaking at a press conference from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida earlier this month, Mr Trump said: “Yeah, I would testify, absolutely. That’s not a trial. That’s a scam.”

The decision from Judge Merchan came after he held a so-called Sandoval hearing last week – hearing that ensures that a criminal defendant is fully aware of what they could be asked on the stand, without being caught off guard with unexpected lines of questioning under cross-examination.

Including such evidence is used only to assess or impeach Mr Trump’s credibility, and “under no circumstance” can be used as evidence of a crime, Judge Merchan stressed on Monday.

Mr Trump’s defence attorney Emil Bove had argued to the judge on Friday that bringing up sexual abuse findings from the defamation case would push “the salaciousness to another level,” and be “unduly prejudicial” in the hush money case.

Donald Trump sits in a criminal courtroom in Manhattan on 22 April. (Getty Images)
Donald Trump sits in a criminal courtroom in Manhattan on 22 April. (Getty Images)

In a filing outlining the claims they could introduce, Manhattan prosecutors state that “defendant sexually abused E Jean Carroll” and that a jury awarded her $2m “compensatory and punitive damages on her sexual abuse claim”.

Prosecutors said that Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial, in which he, his two eldest sons and their fellow Trump Organization executives were found liable for fraudulently inflating the value of company assets to obtain favourable terms from banks and insurers, will also be brought up if they are given the chance.

“What is the prosecution’s position?” Mr Bove asked on Friday. “Are they making arguments about sexual misconduct?”

The allegations outlined in Ms Carroll’s case, which stem from an alleged assault in the 1990s, are “too attenuated, too far back in time to call into question Trump’s credibility in this trial,” Mr Bove argued.

Prosecutors are allowed to bring up the collapse of the Trump Foundation, which was dissolved by a court order in 2018, with a state decision finding that Mr Trump breached his fiduciary duties, including using his campaign to orchestrate fundraisers, the campaign directing the distribution of funds, and using the foundation to boost his campaign.

The judge did not grant prosecutors’ request to address felony convictions involving the Trump Organization. Two subsidiaries of his company were convicted in 2022 on 17 counts, including criminal tax fraud, stemming from what prosecutors described as a years-long scheme to avoid paying payroll taxes by compensating top executives with lavish untaxed perks. Mr Bove said that the case had nothing to do with Mr Trump.