UNITED STATES NEWS

Judge delays Trump’s hush money sentencing until at least September after high court immunity ruling

Jul 2, 2024, 5:00 PM | Updated: Jul 3, 2024, 11:32 am

Judge delays Trump’s hush money sentencing...

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump enters at a campaign event, June 18, 2024, in Racine, Wis. Former President Donald Trump's sentencing in his hush money case has been postponed until Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

In a major reprieve for former President Donald Trump, sentencing for his hush money convictions was postponed Tuesday until at least September — if ever — as the judge agreed to weigh the possible impact of a new Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity.

Trump had been scheduled to face sentencing July 11, just before the Republicans’ nominating convention, on his New York convictions on felony charges of falsifying business records. He denies any wrongdoing.

The postponement sets the sentencing for Sept. 18 at the earliest — if it happens at all, since Trump’s lawyers are arguing that the Supreme Court ruling merits not only delaying the sentencing but tossing out his conviction.

“The impact of the Immunity Ruling is a loud and clear signal for Justice in the United States,” Trump crowed on his Truth Social media site after the sentencing was delayed.

Using all capital letters, he claimed the Supreme Court’s decision netted him “total exoneration” in this and other criminal cases he faces.

There was no immediate comment on the sentencing postponement from Manhattan prosecutors, who brought the hush money case.

Though the Sept. 18 date is well after this month’s Republican National Convention, where Trump is set formally to accept the party’s nomination for president in this year’s race, it is far closer to Election Day, which could put the issue top-of-mind for voters just as they seriously tune into the race. Because of absentee voting timelines in certain states, some voters may already have cast ballots before anyone knows whether the former president will have to spend time in jail or on home confinement.

The delay caps a string of political and legal wins for Trump in recent days, including the Supreme Court’s immunity ruling and a debate widely seen as a disaster for Democratic President Joe Biden.

The immunity decision all but closed the door on the possibility that Trump could face trial in his 2020 election interference case in Washington before this November’s vote. The timeline in itself is a victory for the former president, who has sought to delay his four criminal cases past the balloting.

An appeals court recently paused a separate election interference case against Trump, in Georgia; no trial date has been set. His federal classified documents case in Florida remains bogged down by pretrial disputes that have resulted in an indefinite cancelation of the trial date.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling granted broad immunity protections to presidents, while also restricting prosecutors from citing any official acts as evidence in trying to prove a president’s unofficial actions violated the law.

The high court held that former presidents are absolutely immune from prosecution for actions that fall within their core constitutional duties, such as interacting with the Justice Department, and at least presumptively immune for all other official acts. The justices left intact the longstanding principle that no immunity exists for purely personal acts.

It’s not clear how the decision will affect the New York hush money case.

Its underpinnings involved allegations that a pre-presidency Trump participated in a scheme to stifle sex stories that he feared would be damaging to his 2016 campaign. But the actual charges had to do with payments made in 2017 to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen, who had shelled out hush money on Trump’s behalf. Trump was president when he signed relevant checks to Cohen.

Trump’s lawyers sought unsuccessfully before the trial to keep out certain evidence that they said concerned official acts, including social media posts he made as president. They may face a similar uphill climb in trying to argue now that the Supreme Court ruling warrants tossing out the New York conviction.

When Trump vied unsuccessfully last year to get the hush-money case moved from state court to federal court, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein rejected the former president’s claim that allegations in the hush money indictment involved official duties.

“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely personal item of the president — a cover-up of an embarrassing event,” Hellerstein wrote last year.

Hours after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, Trump’s attorney requested that New York Judge Juan M. Merchan set aside the jury’s guilty verdict and delay the sentencing to consider how the high court’s ruling could affect the hush money case.

Merchan wrote that he’ll rule Sept. 6, and the next date in the case would be Sept. 18, “if such is still necessary.”

In the defense filing Monday, Trump’s attorneys argued that Manhattan prosecutors had placed “highly prejudicial emphasis on official-acts evidence,” including Trump’s social media posts and witness testimony about Oval Office meetings.

Prosecutors responded that they believed those arguments were “without merit” but that they wouldn’t oppose adjourning the sentencing for two weeks as the judge considers the matter.

Trump was convicted May 30 on 34 counts of falsifying business records arising from what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up a $130,000 hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels just before the 2016 presidential election.

Daniels claims she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 after meeting him at a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe. Trump has repeatedly denied that claim, saying at his June 27 debate with Biden: “I didn’t have sex with a porn star.”

Prosecutors said the Daniels payment was part of a broader scheme to buy the silence of people who might have gone public during the campaign with embarrassing stories alleging Trump had extramarital sex. Trump said they all were false.

Cohen paid Daniels and was later reimbursed by Trump, whose company logged the reimbursements as legal expenses.

Trump’s defense argued that the payments were indeed for legal work and so were correctly categorized.

Falsifying business records is punishable by up to four years behind bars. Other potential sentences include probation, a fine or a conditional discharge which would require Trump to stay out of trouble to avoid additional punishment. Trump is the first ex-president convicted of a crime.

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Judge delays Trump’s hush money sentencing until at least September after high court immunity ruling