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Trump can post lower bond, judge rules, and hush-money case to start April 15

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

First, to New York, where former President Donald Trump has a win and a loss today in separate New York courts. An appeals court has cut the bond that Trump had to post from $454 million to $175 million. But a judge sharply rebuked Trump's lawyers in the hush money criminal case and has set a trial date for April 15. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in court in lower Manhattan and joins us now. Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So let's start with the bond today with the deadline, after which the New York attorney general could have started seizing Trump properties to pay off the massive judgment in the civil fraud trial - never got that far. What happened?

BERNSTEIN: So last month a judge ruled that Trump was liable for lying for years about his assets and ordered Trump to pay back nearly half a billion dollars to New York State for the fraud. Trump appealed, and normally a defendant would post a bond to guarantee that they have the money if they lose their appeal. But Trump, true to form, bargained away. He first tried to get the bond lowered by a hundred million dollars, and when the court said no, he said, well, I don't have the liquid assets to guarantee a bond of half a billion dollars. And this morning, while we were all in court for a hearing in the criminal case, Trump got the news he'd have to post 175 million, which was just over a third of the judgment amount.

DETROW: The ruling went a lot further than just the money, though, right? Can you explain the rest?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So Judge Arthur Engoron had also ruled that Trump and his two adult sons couldn't run their company and couldn't apply for loans, and that, too, is on hold pending the appeal. A spokesperson for the New York attorney general says that Donald Trump is still facing accountability for his staggering fraud and pointed out the total $464 million judgment against Trump and his co-defendants stands. But he has had a real run of court rulings breaking his way.

DETROW: Yeah. Let's talk about that. It really seems like everything that could go in Trump's direction has across all of these cases in recent months.

BERNSTEIN: So let me say 175 million is still a lot of money. And a number of lawyers here tell me that appeals courts in New York often cut civil verdicts. But Trump also does well because he is unashamed to push the legal system to upend every norm. And also, he has the money to do it. He is not paying his legal bills. His donors are. You could see his lawyers breaking more rules and norms even today in the legal hearing in his criminal hush money case.

DETROW: OK. So let's talk about that. And it's important to say that here, Trump did not get what he wanted. His trial will go forward on April 15, right?

BERNSTEIN: Yes. But what happened here is that federal prosecutors who separately investigated the hush money scheme years ago, just this month turned over more than a hundred thousand pages of documents. And Trump's lawyers blamed the local DA and tried to get the case tossed because of what they said was widespread misconduct. Judge Juan Merchan, who is usually the embodiment of calm in the courtroom, wasn't having it. He sharply questioned Trump's lawyer, Todd Blanche. At one point he said, you're literally accusing the Manhattan DA of engaging in misconduct. And Blanche conceded. He didn't have any case law, but he kept plowing forward anyway.

DETROW: In about 30 seconds, what's next?

BERNSTEIN: So outside the courtroom, Trump said it was unfair the criminal case was going forward. It should have happened 3 1/2 years ago. Let me just remind listeners 3 1/2 years ago, Trump was president, and his lawyers in this investigation were arguing. And they went all the way to the Supreme Court to say that Trump, as president, could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not be investigated by the Manhattan DA. Trump lost that at every level. The Manhattan DA still had to go back to the Supreme Court for a second time to get Trump's tax records and move forward. Trump now says he wants another delay based on prejudicial pretrial publicity. But Judge Merchan seems bent on going forward April 15.

DETROW: April 15. That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrea Bernstein