Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys said Thursday they plan to try to move the criminal case against him to federal court.
Trump attorney Todd Blanche told New York Judge Juan Merchan during the tail end of a procedural hearing Thursday that Trump’s legal team would file a motion later in the day to seek to move the case to federal court.
The attempt to move the case into federal court appears to be a long-shot bid to try to undercut Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s case against Trump, who pleaded not guilty last month to charges of falsifying business records with the intent to conceal illegal conduct connected to his 2016 presidential campaign.
Still, the move could add another issue that would need to be litigated ahead of a trial next year.
Elie Honig, a CNN senior legal analyst and former federal and state prosecutor, said the move from Trump’s lawyers was unlikely to succeed.
“While Trump can seek to remove a state-level criminal charge to federal court, he’d have to establish that the conduct somehow involved his performance of his official duties as president, which seems unlikely given that the hush money payments related to his pre-presidency candidacy,” Honig said.
Merchan told the district attorney’s office and Trump’s lawyers on Thursday he wanted them to decide on a trial date sometime in either February or March 2024, which would mean that the trial would occur in the midst of the 2024 Republican presidential primary.
Once the date is set, Merchan cautioned, the attorneys involved – and Trump himself – could not agree to any engagements that could delay the trial.
Thursday’s hearing is the first since Trump appeared in court for his arraignment last month. At the hearing, Merchan tried to iron out disputes between the two sides over a protective order that would limit Trump’s ability to publicize information about evidence from the investigation.
Merchan indicated Thursday that he intended to keep in place the bulk of the protective order proposed by the district attorney’s office, saying that limiting the former president’s ability to speak about evidence turned over by prosecutors in the discovery process would not restrict his ability to talk about the case or defend himself as he runs for president in 2024.
“This is not a gag order,” Merchan said.
Trump’s lawyers objected to language in the protective order limiting what he could say about the case, arguing that his First Amendment rights should not be restricted as he campaigns for president in 2024.
Throughout the proceeding, Trump’s social media tendencies loomed over the arguments, along with his run for president.
The district attorney’s office responded that Trump has a “an extensive history of making inflammatory remarks” about those who are investigating him – including Bragg – and said that Trump would not be restricted from discussing facts already in the public record.
Trump’s attorneys also objected to the district attorney’s proposed restrictions that would limit the evidence that could be shared directly with Trump from witness cell phones included in the evidence, such as former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, a key prosecution witness.
Merchan went line by line through the language with the lawyers to try to find middle ground on how personal material from cell phones would remain walled off, while evidence relevant to the case could be shared. The judge urged prosecutors and the defense attorneys to hash out compromise language.
Once the language for the protective order is finalized, Merchan agreed that Trump, as the defendant, should be told about its contents on the record. The defense attorneys and district attorney’s office agreed that could be done virtually at a future court hearing, in order to avoid the massive police presence that was required in lower Manhattan for Trump’s initial court appearance last month.
This story has been updated with additional details.