A federal judge on Wednesday denied Donald Trump’s effort to move the New York indictment charging him with falsifying business records into federal court, finding that Trump failed to show that any of the allegedly illegal conduct related to his role as president.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein previewed at a court hearing several weeks ago that he would not accept the case and would return it to state court.
Trump, who has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection to hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, is set to go to trial in Manhattan for this case in March 2024.
The judge stated in his ruling that the payments to Daniels, an adult film actress and director, were not related to presidential duties.
“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely a personal item of the President – a cover-up of an embarrassing event. Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President’s official acts,” the judge wrote. “Whatever the standard, and whether it is high or low, Trump fails to satisfy it.”
The judge also rejected Trump’s argument that he should have immunity given his position as president at the time he signed reimbursement checks to Michael Cohen, his then-personal attorney who facilitated the hush money payment to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
“Reimbursing Cohen for advancing hush money to Stephanie Clifford cannot be considered the performance of a constitutional duty. Falsifying business records to hide such reimbursement, and to transform the reimbursement into a business expense for Trump and income to Cohen, likewise does not relate to a presidential duty. Trump is not immune from the People’s prosecution in New York Supreme Court,” the judge found.
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg told CNN that the district attorney’s office is “very pleased with the federal court’s decision and look forward to proceeding in New York State Supreme Court.”
A Trump campaign spokesman, meanwhile, said Wednesday that “this case belongs in a federal court and we will continue to pursue all legal avenues to move it there.”
In another blow to Trump, the judge said that federal election law, the Federal Election Campaign Act, doesn’t pre-empt the state charges, falsifying a business record with the intent to commit or conceal another crime. Trump has signaled he will make the argument that the federal statute should preempt the state claim before the judge presiding over the case in state court.
“FECA does not preempt the application of a general state law to conduct related to a federal election except if the law, or its application, constitutes a specific regulation of conduct covered by FECA,” the judge wrote.
“The only elements are the falsification of business records, an intent to defraud, and an intent to commit or conceal another crime,” the judge said, adding, “Trump can be convicted of a felony even if he did not commit any crime beyond the falsification, so long as he intended to do so or to conceal such a crime.”
The judge also rejected Trump’s claim that the case should be moved to federal court because of hostility at the state level.
“There is no reason to believe that the New York judicial system would not be fair and give Trump equal justice under the law,” the judge wrote.
This story has been updated with additional details.