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Trump raises conflict of interest in NY hush money case, closely following his political playbook

The former president has managed to stay ahead in the polls as he executes a double-pronged strategy against prosecutors and judges. But convictions still pose a threat.

Published: April 1, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: April 2, 2024 8:36am

Last week, former President Trump launched a new assault against the judge in his hush money trial in Manhattan, this time reminding the public that the judge’s daughter is a Democratic political consultant and former Kamala Harris 2020 campaign staffer.

The judge’s daughter’s work, a long-known fact, was catapulted back into the national spotlight by Trump's legal team after a series of failed motions. Trump argues this continues to raise conflict of interest concerns as the trial moves forward.

This new offensive closely follows the wider strategy from him and his legal team to delay and poke holes in the credibility of the several cases against him, a strategy which helped unseat the lead prosecutor in the Georgia election case and damaged Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ public image.

Trump thrust Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter back into the public spotlight via a post on his Truth Social platform last week, closely following the judge’s decision to permit Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen to testify and to set an April 15 trial date.

Trump’s legal team had sought to prevent Cohen and Daniels’ testimony and argued that further delays were warranted after federal prosecutors turned over hundreds of thousands of documents to them.

Last year, Trump’s legal team first raised the issue of the judge’s daughter and her work with Democratic politicians. Trump also repeatedly raised Judge Merchan’s own small-dollar donations to Democratic politicians. His legal team argued these realities made Judge Merchan biased towards the former president and the forthcoming trial partial.

Merchan refused to remove himself from the case, saying he was sure he can remain “fair and impartial.” The Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics for the state of New York also determined in an opinion that a judge in Merchan’s situation could remain on the case.

Since that initial attempt, an analysis by the New York Post last week found the judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, who is the president of Authentic Campaigns, has consulted with Democratic clients who raked in $93 million in campaign donations off of Trump’s legal predicament in the case.

“This is a disgrace to our Legal System. Judge Merchan should be immediately sanctioned and recused, and this fake 'case,' only kept alive by the Highly Conflicted Judge, should be completely dismissed right away - THERE IS NO CASE, THERE IS NO CRIME,” Trump said in a post to Truth Social on Saturday responding to the Post’s findings.

Authentic Campaigns has had several high-powered Democratic clients, including the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign, California Senate candidate Rep. Adam Schiff, D.-Calif., and the Senate and House Majority PACs.

Trump’s legal troubles have been lucrative for Loren Merchant’s clients. For example, Rep. Schiff acquired $20 million in donations since he first began fundraising off the news that Manhattan District Attorney indicted the former president on 34 counts of falsifying business records, the Post found. Schiff even defended his practice of exploiting Trump’s legal trouble to solicit funds last year, claiming he was defending “our democracy.”

One of Loren Merchan’s other clients, the Senate Majority PAC, has also used a similar fundraising strategy, drawing in $73.6 million since it first send out fundraising emails announcing Trump’s indictment.

But, the former president—who is now the presumptive Republican nominee—has also exploited his legal troubles to boost his own fundraising numbers and help pay his legal bills.

“We are living through the darkest chapter of American history," the Trump campaign said in an email sent after the indictment was announced in March of last year. "The Radical Left - the enemy of the hardworking men and women of this country - have INDICTED me in a disgusting witch hunt. Alvin Bragg, the Soros-funded District Attorney behind the indictment, relied on the testimony of a convicted felon and a disbarred lawyer." 

On Monday night, Judge Merchan expanded a gag order against the former president to prevent him from commenting on his and Bragg's family. Merchan. imposed the initial gag order last week, preventing Trump from publicly discussing jurors, attorneys, and court staff, while exempting Bragg specifically.

Though President Biden’s reelection campaign has significantly out-raised his Republican challenger, Trump’s strategy has been met with some successes, in shaping public opinion and undermining key cases against him.

Polls have shown a conviction in any one of the four cases, both federal and state, against Trump would damage his 2024 presidential campaign, thus explaining his team’s strategy to delay and undermine the cases.

So far, with all the cases having long overrun their original schedules, the strategy seems to be paying off. In the Real Clear Politics average of national polls, Trump leads President Biden by 1.0 point. At this same date in 2020, Biden was leading then-President Trump by 6.1 points. Trump is also maintaining clear polling leads in several key battleground states that may ultimately decide the election, including Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia.

Trump’s efforts against his federal cases and the prosecutor Jack Smith have also followed the same playbook. It is no coincidence that Smith, who leads the federal Jan. 6 case—the one the public deems the most serious case against the former president—has come under repeated attack by Trump in his social media posts. According to an NBC analysis, Trump has called the prosecutor “deranged,” a “nut-job,” and a “thug” in his over 175 posts about the official.

In tandem with his public offensives against Smith, Trump’s legal team claimed presidential immunity and urged the Supreme Court to dismiss the case on those grounds. The high court is expected to hear arguments in the case on April 25 after a lower court judge previously rejected Trump’s motions, delaying the trial.

In Georgia, the Trump team amplified findings about District Attorney Fani Willis uncovered by one of the former president’s co-defendants in an effort to disqualify her from the case and delay the trial. The defendants alleged evidence showed Willis engaged in an improper romantic and financial relationship with the special prosecutor she appointed to handle the case.

After DA Willis appeared before the Fulton County Superior Court to testify about her alleged relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, Trump took to Truth Social to criticize her handling of the case.

“They’re talking about the Georgia 'Fani Scandal' all over the World. In fact, by far, it is trending #1,” Trump posted. “I can’t believe the Georgia State Judiciary, or the Governor, can be happy about this humiliating embarrassment. It was a FAKE CASE from the start, and now everybody sees it for what it is, a MAJOR LEAGUE SCANDAL!” he added.

Ultimately, Willis was not disqualified, but her special prosecutor was ordered off the case by the Superior Court judge in an opinion that criticized the district attorney, likely damaging her public image—one of the Trump team’s goals from the beginning.

“This finding is by no means an indication that the Court condones this tremendous lapse in judgment or the unprofessional manner of the District Attorney’s testimony during the evidentiary hearing,” the judge said of his ruling.

“An outsider could reasonably think that the district attorney is not exercising her independent professional judgment totally free of any compromising influences,” he also said of the improper relationship between the district attorney and her special prosecutor, Wade.

Trump’s legal team has appealed the judge’s ruling that Fani Willis could stay on the case so long as Wade departed. The case is expected to move to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Trump’s efforts in this case, like those in the New York and federal cases, may have succeeded in creating more problems for Willis and in delaying the trial – freeing up the former president’s time and money to focus on campaigning.

“Her troubles are far from over,” ethics expert and Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham told The Guardian. He highlighted Trump’s ability to appeal, the threat of a Georgia state law reestablishing a commission to review prosecutors, and a possibility of a reversal if a conviction is secured before Trump’s appeal is heard.

In the one case that Trump has not been able to halt or delay, a $370 million civil suit against him by the New York Attorney General Letitia James, the former president is expected to cough up a reduced $175 million bond while he appeals the ruling against him for allegedly manipulating the value of his assets.

Trump posted the bond Monday evening, Just the News reported

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