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Trump’s lawyers push for recusal of Judge Juan Merchan in hush money case

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a “Get Out The Vote” rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Ga., March 9, 2024. (Christian Monterrosa/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) — Donald Trump’s lawyers are again asking Judge Juan Merchan to recuse himself from the former president’s New York hush money trial, seven months after the judge declined a similar request by defense lawyers.

Defense lawyers filed a letter Monday arguing that Merchan’s daughter’s work for the digital consulting firm Authentic Campaigns creates an “ongoing financial interest” tied to the former president’s criminal trial.

“Under these circumstances, Your Honor has an interest in this case that warrants recusal, there is an unacceptable risk that the Court’s family relationships will influence judicial conduct, and the Court’s impartiality ‘might reasonably be questioned,'” defense lawyer Todd Blanche wrote, asking for permission to file a motion in support of recusal.

Responding in a filing Tuesday, prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office argued that the defense request for Merchan’s recusal was factually flawed, failed to provide new information, and should be immediately denied.

“There is simply nothing new here that would alter this Court’s prior conclusion that nothing about this proceeding will directly benefit Authentic or this Court’s family member, let alone this Court,” prosecutor Matthew Colangelo said.

Trump’s lawyers made a similar effort to have Merchan recused from the case last year based on $35 in political contributions he made to Democrats in 2020 — including a $15 donation to Joe Biden — as well as his role overseeing the 2022 Trump Organization trial, and his daughter’s work as a political consultant.

Merchan declined to recuse himself in an August 2023 ruling, writing that “this Court has examined its conscience and is certain in its ability to be fair and impartial.”

“Defendant has failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete, or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds. The speculative and hypothetical scenarios offered by Defendant fall well short of the legal standard,” Merchan said about the allegations related to his daughter’s work.

Merchan relied on a May 2023 opinion issued by New York’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, which determined that his “impartiality cannot reasonably be questioned” based on his daughter’s work.

“We see nothing in the inquiry to suggest that the outcome of the case could have any effect on the judge’s relative, the relative’s business, or any of their interests,” the committee found.

In their letter Monday, Trump’s lawyers argued that the circumstances of the trial have changed since Merchan’s August 2023 decision not to recuse himself.

“The scenarios identified by the defense have come to pass. President Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president in the 2024 election,” the filing said before highlighting the role of Merchan’s daughter as a political consultant.

Loren Merchan has served as a partner at Authentic Campaigns, which has worked for numerous Democratic clients on digital ad placement, fundraising list acquisition and other digital consulting, according to records reviewed by ABC News. The firm’s past and current clients include President Joe Biden’s 2020 campaign, Vice President Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign, pro-Democrat super PAC Senate Majority PAC (SMP) and Rep. Adam Schiff’s current Senate and past House campaigns.

Authentic Campaigns has been paid nearly $12 million so far in the 2023/2024 election cycle. The firm was paid $1.7 million by SMP last year and $2.1 million and $7.6 million, respectively, by the Biden campaign and the Harris campaign during the 2020 election, Federal Election Commission disclosure reports show.

“[There] is strong evidence that Authentic has used this case to make money. Those benefits and the ongoing financial interest cannot be ignored,” Blanche argued, suggesting that Merchan’s daughter would “continue to earn money” because developments in Trump’s criminal trial create “fodder for fundraising.”

In their response filed Tuesday, prosecutors disputed the defense’s allegations about the financial conflict between Merchan and his daughter, writing that there are “multiple attenuated factual leaps here that undercut any direct connection between Authentic and this case.”

“This daisy chain of innuendos is a far cry from evidence that this Court has ‘a direct, personal, substantial or pecuniary interest in reaching a particular conclusion,'” the filing said.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election. The former president has denied all wrongdoing.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to get underway April 15 in New York City.

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