Donald Trump’s trial in New York on criminal charges over hush money payments to the porn star Stormy Daniels will begin on 25 March 2024, amid the Republican presidential primary and less than than eight months before the general election the former president hopes to contest.
The trial date was announced in a hearing in a Manhattan courtroom on Tuesday, Trump attending by video link from his Florida home.
The judge, Juan Merchan, advised the former president to cancel all other obligations for the duration of the trial, which could last for several weeks.
Trump was muted for most of the hearing, which lasted around 15 minutes. The video feed showed the former president sitting and conferring with his lawyer, Todd Blanche, in front of a backdrop of American flags.
No other former president has been criminally indicted. Spokespeople for Trump did not immediately comment on news of his trial date.
Trump used his Truth Social platform to lash out, claiming his “first amendment rights, ‘freedom of speech’” had been “violated” by the scheduling of the trial “right in the middle of primary season”.
“This is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted,” Trump wrote, also claiming “election interference”, a loaded term given widespread agreement that Russia interfered to boost his candidacy in the election he won in 2016.
In April, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 charges of falsification of business records, arising from his $130,000 payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels, during the 2016 election, to keep quiet about an alleged sexual encounter.
The Tuesday hearing was also held to explain an order forbidding the disclosing of material presented by prosecutors not already publicly known.
Merchan’s order bars Trump and his lawyers from disseminating evidence to third parties or posting it to social media, and requires that some sensitive material be kept only by Trump’s lawyers.
Prosecutors sought the order soon after Trump was arrested, citing his history of “harassing, embarrassing, and threatening statements” about people with whom he has entered legal disputes.
Trump claims to be the victim of political witch-hunts meant to silence him as he runs for the Republican nomination to face Joe Biden next year.
Judge Merchan has stressed he is not seeking to gag Trump, but “bending over backwards and straining to ensure that he is given every opportunity possible to advance his candidacy”.
Trump’s court appearance came after news that E Jean Carroll, the writer who accused him of rape and won $5m in a civil suit earlier this month, is seeking additional damages over his comments in a controversial CNN town hall.
Just a day after he was found liable for sexual abuse and defamation, Trump called Carroll a “wack job” who “made-up” her story. He also claimed the trial was “rigged”.
In a new filing in New York on Monday, lawyers for Carroll said such conduct “supports a very substantial punitive damages award in Carroll’s favor”.
Carroll, a magazine columnist, says Trump raped her at a New York department store in the mid-1990s. Her new damages claim comes in a defamation suit filed in federal court in 2019, over Trump’s initial responses to her allegation and separate from the New York case, which was brought under a state law allowing victims of historic sexual crimes to sue their alleged attackers.
The federal case had been on hold over the issue of whether Trump was protected because he made the comments in question while president. He does not enjoy that protection relating to comments during the CNN event.
According to the New York Times, the new filing says Trump’s statements “show the depth of his malice toward Carroll, since it is hard to imagine defamatory conduct that could possibly be more motivated by hatred, ill will or spite”.
Trump renewed his abuse of Carroll on social media on Monday. As he did so, George Conway, a conservative lawyer and Trump critic, told MSNBC: “The complaint that she’s been amending this time was actually the original complaint from the first lawsuit that she brought in 2019, when … Trump … from the bully pulpit of the Oval Office … basically accused her of being a liar.
“And she got $3m for the second libel, in 2022, when he was dumb enough to repeat the first libel. And that time, he wasn’t president, so he didn’t have this legal argument. That’s why the first case went off on a wild goose chase in the appellate court, and now it’s come back.”
The 2019 case, Conway said, “already had more damage potential [for Trump] than the case that [Carroll] already won … because he was president at the time.
“It was the very, very first libel that he made on E Jean Carroll. And now the fact that he has repeated the libel after being found to have sexually abused her is really, really outrageous. And it is supportive of punitive damages.
“This verdict could be greater than the $5m that she got in the first place. Frankly, I hope it is, because I think, at some point he’s got to stop lying about this and stop lying about her. How many times [are we] gonna have to go through this?”
Trump’s legal problems extend beyond New York, where he also faces a multimillion-dollar civil suit over his business affairs, lodged by the state attorney general.
In Georgia, indictments arising from Trump’s attempt to overturn his 2020 election defeat are expected this summer.
In Washington DC, the US justice department continues to investigate Trump’s election subversion, including his incitement of the January 6 attack on Congress.
Jack Smith, a special counsel appointed by attorney general Merrick Garland, is also investigating Trump’s retention of classified documents.
Nonetheless, Trump enjoys huge leads over all other Republican presidential candidates.