May 29, 2024

By Natasha Anderson and Kelly Laco


GOP Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who is in the running to be Donald Trump‘s vice president, has filed a misconduct complaint against the judge overseeing his hush-money trial.

Stefanik has called for an investigation into Justice Juan Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s trial in New York state court, to ‘determine whether the required random selection process was in fact followed’.

She has alleged that Merchan, whom she claims is a Democrat Party donor, has repeatedly been assigned to criminal cases linked to Trump and his allies.

Merchan previously presided over the criminal trial against the Trump Organization, according to Stefanik’s complaint, and will also oversee the criminal trial of Steve Bannon, who served as the White House‘s chief strategist at the beginning of Trump’s presidency.

The complaint comes as jurors in the former president’s hush money trial are expected to begin deliberations today.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse a $130,000 payment to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels, when her account of an alleged sexual encounter imperiled his 2016 presidential campaign. He has denied all wrongdoing.

Stefanik, who is considered a top contender for Trump’s vice president, filed the complaint against Merchan with the inspector general of the New York State Unified Court System, alleging ‘potential misconduct’.

She alleged that although there were ‘at least 24 sitting justices’ eligible to oversee Trump’s case, Merchan had received ‘repeated assignment’ to preside over three cases connected to the former president.

‘The potential misconduct pertains to the repeated assignment of Acting Justice Juan Merchan, a Democrat Party donor, to criminal cases related to President Donald J. Trump and his allies,’ she wrote in the complaint.

‘Acting Justice Merchan currently presides over the criminal case against President Trump brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.’

She continued: ‘Acting Justice Merchan also presided over the criminal trial against the Trump Organization and will be presiding over the criminal trial of Steve Bannon, a senior advisor in President Trump’s White House and a prominent advocate for President Trump.’

Stefanik alleged that if justices were ‘randomly assigned’ to criminal trials that the probability Merchan would be selected to all three cases was ‘infinitesimally small’.

‘One cannot help but suspect that the ‘random selection’ at work in the assignment of Acting Justice Merchan, a Democrat Party donor, to these cases involving prominent Republicans, is in fact not random at all,’ she wrote.

She claimed the ‘simple answer’ as to why Merchan was overseeing all three cases was to ‘increase the chance that Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and Steven Bannon would ultimately be convicted.’

Stefanik also referenced how Merchan donated to Joe Biden‘s 2020 presidential campaign, which she alleged was ‘in violation of New York State Code of Judicial Conduct’.

Merchan, who was cleared of misconduct by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct last July, contributed $15 to the ‘Biden for President’ campaign in July 2020, The New York Post reported, citing Federal Election Commission records.

He also made a $10 contribution to both the Progressive Turnout Project and Stop Republicans. The donation were made through online fundraising platform ActBlue.

The judge’s daughter, Loren Merchan, is also reportedly involved in Democratic politics. She is the head of the consulting firm Authentic Campaigns.

Stefanik’s complaint argued that Ms Merchan’s company ‘stands to profit greatly if Donald Trump is convicted.’

The Congresswoman concluded by demanding an investigation into the ‘anomaly’ of Merchan’s assignment to the cases and that anyone involved in any ‘scheme’ receive the ‘appropriate sanction’.

Meanwhile, jurors in the hush money trial will begin deliberating today on whether to return the first criminal conviction of a former president – a momentous decision that could upend the November presidential election.

The deliberations follow a marathon day of closing arguments in which a Manhattan prosecutor accused Trump of trying to ‘hoodwink’ voters in the 2016 presidential election by participating in a hush money scheme meant to stifle embarrassing stories he feared would torpedo his campaign.

‘This case, at its core, is about a conspiracy and a cover-up,’ prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told jurors during summations that stretched from early afternoon into the evening.

Trump’s lawyer, by contrast, branded the star prosecution witness as the ‘greatest liar of all time’ as he proclaimed his client innocent of all charges and pressed the panel for an across-the-board acquittal.

The lawyers’ dueling accounts, wildly divergent in their assessments of witness credibility, Trump’s culpability and the strength of evidence, offered both sides one final chance to score points with the jury as it prepares to embark upon the momentous and historically unprecedented task of deciding whether to convict the presumptive Republican presidential nominee ahead of the November election.

Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, charges punishable by up to four years in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. It’s unclear whether prosecutors would seek imprisonment in the event of a conviction, or if the judge would impose that punishment.

Jurors will have the option of convicting Trump of all counts, acquitting him of all counts, or delivering a mixed verdict in which he is found guilty of some charges and not others. If they deadlock after several days of deliberations and are unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Merchan may declare a mistrial.

If Trump is found guilty, analysts allege the political repercussions would far outweigh the seriousness of the charges as, barely five months before the presidential election, the candidate would also become a convicted criminal.

In a full day of closing arguments on Tuesday, his defense team insisted the evidence for a conviction simply did not exist, while the prosecution countered that it was voluminous and inescapable.

‘The defendant’s intent to defraud could not be any clearer,’ said prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, urging the jurors to use their ‘common sense’ and return a guilty verdict.

To return a guilty or not guilty verdict requires the jury to be unanimous – one holdout means a mistrial.

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from the November ballot.

In its concluding remarks to the jury, the defense has painted star prosecution witness Michael Cohen as a convicted liar consumed by ‘outright hatred for Trump.’

‘There was no intent to defraud and beyond that there was no conspiracy to influence the 2016 election,’ said Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche.

Steinglass countered that there was a mountain of corroborating evidence in addition to Cohen’s testimony.

Speaking to reporters before entering the Manhattan courtroom Tuesday, Trump called it a ‘very dangerous day for America.’

Trump chose not to testify in his defense. Instead, he used his trips to court to claim the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden and the verdict will inflame passions as the White House race intensifies.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of hoarding huge quantities of classified documents after leaving the White House. The New York case is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.