The New York state judge overseeing former President Trump’s criminal hush money case has rejected the former president’s demand for recusal.
Trump called for New York Supreme Court acting Justice Juan Merchan to step aside in June, citing Merchan’s daughter’s employment at a progressive digital agency and the judge’s participation in a previous case related to Trump’s business.
Trump also demanded an explanation about an apparent political donation Merchan made to President Biden.
In a six-page decision, Merchan rejected all of Trump’s requests. The judge noted his decision was based in part on guidance he sought, prior to Trump’s motion, from the state’s judicial ethics advisory committee about some of the concerns.
Merchan is set to oversee Manhattan prosecutors’ attempt to convict Trump on 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with payments he made to his then-fixer, Michael Cohen, after Cohen provided a $130,000 hush payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election.
Trump pleaded not guilty, and he has repeatedly attacked Merchan in speeches and on social media. Merchan has set a trial start date for March 2024.
Merchan’s ruling did confirm his daughter is employed at Authentic Campaigns, a digital marketing agency that lists Biden’s campaign and other Democratic candidates as clients, as Trump’s attorneys alleged in the recusal motion.
But the judge cited the ethics committee’s guidance, which found nothing to “suggest that the outcome of the case could have any effect on the judge’s relative, the relative’s business, or any of their interests.”
“Defendant has failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete, or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds,” Merchan wrote. “The speculative and hypothetical scenarios offered by Defendant fall well short of the legal standard.”
Merchan’s decision went on to seemingly confirm that he donated $35 to political causes in July 2020, comprising a $15 donation to Biden’s presidential campaign, $10 to the Progressive Turnout Project and $10 to a group called “Stop Republicans.”
But he similarly cited the ethics committee’s guidance saying he was not obligated to disclose the contributions.
“The donations at issue are self-evident and require no further clarification,” Merchan wrote.
Merchan also rejected notions that he acted improperly while overseeing the criminal prosecution of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer who agreed to a plea deal last year.
Merchan said the Trump Organization had unsuccessfully sought his recusal in that case, too.
“That the identical grounds are now raised on behalf of a different defendant, on an entirely different indictment, only serve to weaken the plausibility of the claim,” Merchan wrote.
Trump has also mounted an attempt to move his case to federal court, but a separate judge rejected that effort last month. Trump is now appealing that decision, and the case is meanwhile moving ahead in Merchan’s court.
Beyond the hush money charges, the former president also faces criminal charges in connection with his alleged mishandling of classified materials and efforts to remain in power following the 2020 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases.