Trump hush money trial faces possible delay over late evidence disclosure

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump holds rally in Richmond

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors in Donald Trump's hush money case said on Thursday they would not oppose a 30-day delay in the trial, set to begin on March 25, after the Republican presidential candidate said late disclosure of evidence was hurting his preparation.

A delay to the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president would mark another victory for Trump, who has sought to slow down proceedings in his various legal entanglements as he prepares to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 election.

The hush money case in New York state court in Manhattan is scheduled to be the first of four Trump criminal cases to reach trial. None of the other cases has a firm trial date but any delay to the New York trial could complicate their scheduling.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the New York case to 34 counts of falsifying business records to hide his former lawyer Michael Cohen's $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels for her silence before the 2016 election about a sexual encounter she says they had a decade earlier.

Trump denies an encounter.

His lawyers have argued that Cohen paid off Daniels to spare Trump's family embarrassment, not to boost his electoral chances as prosecutors in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office have alleged.

In a heavily redacted filing dated March 8 and made public on Thursday, Trump's lawyers said they needed more time to review thousands of pages of documents they recently received from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan, which had previously investigated Cohen's payment to Daniels.

They suggested at least a 90-day delay to the trial. They also urged Justice Juan Merchan to consider dismissing the indictment altogether, arguing some of the federal prosecutors' evidence undermined the district attorney's arguments.

"The statements demonstrate that Cohen did not seek to be, and was not, acting for the benefit of President Trump's campaign," Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche wrote.

The statements he was referring to were redacted.

Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges of violating campaign finance law through the payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford. The U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan did not charge Trump in that case.

In a court filing, Bragg's office said it was ready to proceed to trial on March 25 but did not oppose a 30-day delay to make sure Trump had a chance to review the new material.

Merchan would have to approve any delay to the trial. It was not immediately clear when he would act.

Earlier this week, Trump asked Merchan to postpone the trial until the U.S. Supreme Court finishes its review of his claim of presidential immunity in his federal criminal case over efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden.

The Supreme Court is due to hear those arguments on April 25. A 30-day delay to the hush money trial would mean it would start that same week - a little over six months before Election Day.

Trump also faces a state criminal prosecution over his push to reverse the 2020 election results, and a federal prosecution in Florida over his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving the White House in 2021. He has pleaded not guilty in all cases.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)