Trump makes video appearance in New York criminal case, trial date set for March primary season

Former president Donald Trump, left on screen, and his attorney, Todd Blanche, right on screen, appear by video, as his other attorney Susan Necheles, right, looks on, before a hearing begins Tuesday in Manhattan criminal court. (AP Photo/Curtis Means via Pool)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump threw up his hands in frustration Tuesday as a judge scheduled his criminal trial for March 25, putting the former president and current candidate in a Manhattan courtroom in the heat of next year’s presidential primary season.

Trump, appearing by video conference at a pretrial hearing in the hush-money case, glowered at the camera as Judge Juan Manuel Merchan advised him to cancel all other obligations for the duration of the trial, which could last several weeks.

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Trump, wearing a blue suit against a backdrop of American flags at his Florida estate, then turned to a lawyer by his side — their brief discussion inaudible on the video feed — before sitting with his arms folded for the remainder of the hearing.

Trump said little during the hearing, but lashed out afterward on social media, writing: “Just had New York County Supreme Court hearing where I believe my First Amendment Rights, ‘Freedom of Speech,’ have been violated, and they forced upon us a trial date of March 25th, right in the middle of Primary season.”

“Very unfair, but this is exactly what the Radical Left Democrats wanted,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform. “It’s called ELECTION INTERFERENCE, and nothing like this has ever happened in our Country before!!!”

Trump pleaded not guilty last month to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records related to hush-money payments made during the 2016 campaign to bury allegations that he had extramarital sexual encounters. He has denied wrongdoing.

Merchan said he arrived at the March 25 trial date after discussions with Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors. Trump’s lawyer, Susan Necheles, said Trump knew about the date prior to Tuesday’s hearing and said she didn’t see his exasperated reaction.

Trump’s case is proceeding in state court even as his lawyers seek to have it moved to federal court because some of the alleged conduct occurred while he was president. The Manhattan district attorney’s office has until next week to file paperwork stating why it should remain in state court, where the historic indictment was brought.

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