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Lawyer: Trump seeking to move criminal case to federal court

Former US president Donald Trump gestures as he plays golf at Trump International Golf Links & Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland, Thursday, May 4, 2023, during his visit to Ireland. (Brian Lawless/PA via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyer said Thursday the former president will seek to move his New York City criminal case to federal court, a long-shot bid to avoid a trial in the state court where the historic indictment was brought.

Such a move, while rare, would have significant advantages for Trump, including a broader, more politically diverse jury pool that includes some Republican-leaning New York suburbs. In state court in Manhattan, juries are drawn only from that borough, where voters have heavily favored his Democratic rivals.

“This effort is extremely unlikely to succeed,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School. “It’s not even clear that this would be a particularly effective delay tactic.”

Trump’s attorney, Todd Blanche, spoke at a hearing on an unrelated issue in the case. He said the defense team plans to file a motion Thursday asking to transfer the case from state court to federal court.

Trump’s lawyers face a Thursday deadline to file paperwork listing their grounds for moving the case — 30 days after the April 4 state court arraignment where he pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

A federal judge would then have to rule whether the case can be moved.

Prosecutors didn’t address the impending request during Thursday’s hearing. A message seeking comment was left with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office.

“It is possible to remove a state prosecution to federal court but the reasons for doing so are narrow and none seem to apply in this case,” Roiphe, a former Manhattan prosecutor, said.

Trump’s charges, the first brought against a former president, are related to hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations of extramarital sexual encounters.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan previously investigated those arrangements and only charged one person: Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments. Cohen is a key witness in the state case against Trump.

Trump, a Republican, has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

At Thursday’s hearing regarding potential limitations on Trump’s access to certain evidence, Judge Juan Manuel Merchan asked Trump’s lawyers and the prosecution to confer and agree on a trial date in either February or March 2024.

Barring removal to federal court, that could land Trump, who’s currently making a comeback run for the White House, in court during next year’s party primaries.

William Dow III, a Connecticut attorney for more than 50 years, said he had never heard of a state criminal case being removed to federal court. He called such a move a delaying ploy.

“It’s interesting that sometimes people who want to run away from their problems take any avenue that’s available, whether it’s accurate or not. I think this (Trump’s case) is subject to that interpretation,” said Dow, whose clients have included former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland in a political corruption case that forced him to resign in 2004.