Former President Trump and his legal team are urging Judge Juan Merchan, the New York judge overseeing his hush money criminal case, to recuse himself due to concerns about impartiality. Trump’s lawyers pointed to Judge Merchan’s apparent political donations to Joe Biden and liberal-leaning groups, as well as his involvement in a previous case related to Trump. They also highlighted reports indicating that Merchan’s daughter works at a progressive digital agency. Trump’s legal team argued that these factors undermine confidence in the judge’s impartiality and called for his recusal.
The criminal case involves 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with reimbursements made to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, for a $130,000 hush payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 election. Trump has pleaded not guilty and is currently under investigation in multiple other criminal cases.
Federal Election Commission records show that a person named Juan Merchan associated with the New York court system made political donations totaling $35 in July 2020. These donations included contributions to Biden’s presidential campaign, the Progressive Turnout Project, and a group called “Stop Republicans.” Trump’s lawyers have demanded an explanation for these contributions, suggesting that they may raise doubts about the judge’s impartiality.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment on the matter, stating that they will respond to the motion in court papers.
Trump’s legal team also raised concerns about media reports indicating that Judge Merchan’s daughter serves as the chief operating officer at a progressive digital agency, Authentic Strategies. This agency counts Biden’s campaign and other Democratic candidates as clients. Trump’s lawyers argued that this familial relationship, coupled with the significance of the case in potential political campaigns and advertising for the 2024 presidential election, poses further problems regarding impartiality.
In their filing, Trump’s team highlighted Judge Merchan’s involvement in the criminal prosecution of Allen Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, who received a five-month jail sentence as part of a plea deal in a tax-fraud scheme. They accused Merchan of exceeding his authority by attempting to induce Weisselberg to cooperate against Trump.
While New York trial judges are not strictly prohibited from facilitating plea agreements, they must adhere to certain limits. Susan Necheles, one of Trump’s attorneys, who represented the Trump Organization during the tax fraud trial, specifically attributed blame to Weisselberg.
The request for recusal underscores the ongoing legal battles surrounding Trump and his legal team’s efforts to ensure a fair trial by raising concerns about the judge’s impartiality.