When former President Donald Trump arrives for his first appearance in Manhattan Criminal Court next week, he will look up at a judge who has played a key role in several investigations involving those in Trump’s orbit.
Judge Juan Merchan presided over the convictions and guilty plea last year of two Trump Organization companies, and their former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, one of Trump’s most trusted advisers. Merchan is also overseeing the ongoing criminal proceedings involving Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and senior counselor in the White House who has pleaded not guilty to state fraud and money laundering charges.
A grand jury has indicted Trump in connection with a possible falsification of business records case tied to a 2016 “hush money” payment. Merchan was assigned from a “wheel” of judges to supervise the grand jury and oversee any indictments arising from its investigation, a court spokesman said Friday.
Trump went after Merchan by name in a post on his social media site TruthSocial on Friday morning.
“The Judge ‘assigned’ to my Witch Hunt Case, a ‘Case’ that has NEVER BEEN CHARGED BEFORE, HATES ME. His name is Juan Manuel Marchan,” Trump wrote, misspelling the judge’s last name.
In the post, Trump accused Merchan of having “railroaded” and “strong armed” Weisselberg, who is currently incarcerated in New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex. Weisselberg entered a guilty plea last year and admitted to receiving more than $1.7 million in untaxed compensation.
Trump also accused Merchan of treating his companies “viciously.” A court spokesperson declined to comment when asked about Trump’s post.
Just before opening statements in the Trump Organization trial in October 2022, Bragg praised Merchan, telling CBS News he “runs an efficient courtroom.”
Merchan has been an acting justice in Manhattan’s State Supreme Court for 14 years, following a three year stint as a Bronx family court judge. Prior to that he worked for the New York Attorney General’s Office for seven years, the last three of which he oversaw the Office’s civil litigation in Nassau County, which borders New York City.
Merchan also spent five years as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. A source with knowledge of the Trump legal team’s internal discussions cited this role as one of the reasons they consider him “pro-prosecutor.”
The New York Times reported in December that prior to becoming a prosecutor, Merchan worked as an auditor at a real estate firm. That job, the paper wrote, made him “unusually equipped to digest” the spreadsheets and calculations of a complex financial crimes case.
As a candidate to retake the White House in 2024, Trump and his legal team have repeatedly accused Bragg of pursuing the cases out of political animus, accusing the district attorney, a Democrat, of bias.
Similar arguments have previously been dismissed by Merchan. When lawyers for the Trump Organization said they might argue political bias during the companies’ trial, Merchan quickly shut them down.
“I will not allow you in any way to bring up a selective prosecution claim, or claim this is some sort of novel prosecution,” Merchan said last September, limiting both sides in the Trump Organization trial to arguments focused on the law.
In the Trump Organization trial, the two entities were found guilty by a jury in December of a combined 17 counts related to criminal tax fraud.
Susan Necheles, a Trump criminal attorney who also represented the companies during their trial, told CBS News in December that the judge’s restrictions hampered the defense.
“These are political cases. They wouldn’t have been brought if they weren’t political cases, you know, and it’s like the elephant in the room,” Necheles said. “You’re not allowed to talk about it, but there’s a reason why this case was brought.”
Graham Kates is an investigative reporter covering criminal justice, privacy issues and information security for CBS News Digital. Contact Graham at [email protected] or [email protected]
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