NEW YORK — Lawyers for Donald Trump asked a Manhattan judge to recuse himself from presiding over the criminal case against the former president, arguing in a court filing that the judge is biased and has a conflict of interest.
In papers dated May 31 and filed publicly Friday, Trump’s lawyers said the judge, Juan Merchan, has an “actual or perceived conflict of interest” because his daughter works for a digital agency, Authentic, whose clients include a number of Democratic officials.
The lawyers also said Merchan displayed a “preconceived bias” by urging Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, to cooperate against Trump in an earlier case. Weisselberg pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year after he was indicted alongside the Trump Organization. The company was found guilty at a trial overseen by Merchan.
Susan Necheles, a lawyer who represented the company at trial and is now on Trump’s defense team for his criminal case, said in a court filing that Weisselberg’s lawyer told her that Merchan had encouraged Weisselberg to cooperate with prosecutors.
Trump’s lawyers also asked that Merchan publicly explain political contributions in his name. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Merchan made three political contributions through ActBlue, according to Federal Election Commission records. He gave $15 to President Joe Biden’s campaign, $10 to the Progressive Turnout Project and $10 to Stop Republicans, records show.
“This case before this Court is historic and it is important that the People of the State of New York and this nation have confidence that the jurist who presides over it is impartial. Most respectfully, the foregoing facts compel the conclusion that Your Honor is not and thus should recuse,” Trump lawyers Necheles and Todd Blanche wrote in the filing.
A trial in the case is scheduled for next March.
A court representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said prosecutors would respond in court papers.
Trump pleaded not guilty in April to 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with an alleged scheme during the 2016 presidential campaign to pay hush money to cover up allegations of extramarital affairs. The indictment, brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, made Trump the first former president ever to face criminal charges.
Trump’s lawyers also asked Merchan to recuse himself in the case against the company. Merchan declined to do so.