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Trump hush money sentencing delayed weeks before US election

Former US president Donald Trump. — AFP/File

NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s sentencing for his conviction on criminal charges stemming from hush money paid to a porn star was delayed on Tuesday until September 18, less than seven weeks before the US election.

Justice Juan Merchan pushed back the sentencing date so he can weigh the former US president’s argument he should have been immune from prosecution under Monday’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that presidents cannot be criminally prosecuted for official acts.

The new timeline means Merchan could decide the Republican presidential candidate’s punishment, including whether to jail him, in the thick of the campaign season before the November 5 election.

The sentencing had previously been set for July 11, just days before the July 15 kickoff of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.

Trump faces an uphill battle getting the hush money conviction overturned, since much of the conduct at issue in the case predated his time in office.

Trump’s lawyers on Monday asked Merchan to allow them to argue his conviction should be overturned due to the justices’ 6-3 ruling on July 1, which also held that evidence related to presidents’ official actions cannot be used to help prove criminal cases involving unofficial actions

Prosecutors with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said earlier on Tuesday that Trump’s argument was “without merit,” but agreed to delay the sentencing to give Trump the chance to make his case.

A Manhattan jury on May 30 found Trump guilty of falsifying business records to cover up his former lawyer Michael Cohen’s $130,000 payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter until after the 2016 election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors said the payment was part of an illicit scheme to influence the election.

Trump denies having had sex with Daniels and has vowed to appeal the conviction after his sentencing.

‘A purely personal item’  

In their letter to Merchan, defense lawyers argued that prosecutors had presented evidence involving Trump’s official acts as president, including social media posts he made and conversations he had while in the White House.

“This official-acts evidence should never have been put before the jury,” lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove wrote.

Last year, Trump made a similar argument as part of an unsuccessful push to move the hush money case to federal court. In denying Trump’s request in July 2023, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein wrote that the payment to Daniels “was a purely personal item.”

“Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a president’s official acts,” Hellerstein wrote.

Trump’s lawyers appealed Hellerstein’s decision, but later abandoned the effort.

In his written ruling, Merchan said he would rule on Trump’s request to set aside the jury’s verdict by Sept. 6, with sentencing to follow less than two weeks later should the judge decide to uphold the conviction. Trump’s lawyers must submit their arguments by July 10, and prosecutors face a July 24 deadline to respond.

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