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Trump faces new dilemma on whether to take witness stand

Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly said he will testify in his hush money trial in New York, but a decision this week by the case’s presiding judge may have thrown a wrench into those plans.

Judge Juan Merchan ruled on Monday during the trial that prosecutors could ask Trump, if he chooses to take the stand, about the former president’s past legal troubles, including his recent civil fraud trial and certain aspects of his court battles with writer E. Jean Carroll.

Trump, whose presence is required every day during the trial, shook his head at one point as the judge announced the decision, according to a report from the courtroom.

Prosecutors working on behalf of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg are aiming to prove Trump falsified business records by hiding payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels after the 2016 presidential election.

Merchan said Monday that if prosecutors have an opportunity to cross-examine Trump, they can now ask him about how a judge in a separate civil case found Trump liable for persistent and repeated business fraud. Trump is in the process of appealing that decision.

Merchan also said prosecutors could raise gag order violations Trump committed in the civil case.

Lastly, Trump’s yearslong legal fight with Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her during a brief encounter in the 1990s, is also fair game for prosecutors, Merchan said. On the topic of Carroll, the judge limited the scope of questions prosecutors could ask to those about findings by a jury and judge that Trump defamed Carroll. Merchan prohibited prosecutors from broaching that a jury found Trump liable for sexually assaulting Carroll, a finding that Trump adamantly denies.

Andrew McCarthy, a conservative legal analyst, described Merchan’s ruling in an op-ed as a setback for Trump.

“The Democrats’ lawfare campaign against the putative 2024 Republican presidential nominee is paying compound interest,” McCarthy wrote.

The Defend Democracy Project, a left-leaning organization, also called it a victory for Bragg in a statement after the trial.

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“This is a win for the prosecution — being able to question Trump about some of his prior legal issues (if he decides to testify) is huge for their efforts to show the jury that his word isn’t credible,” the group wrote.

The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution protects Trump from being required to testify, but if the former president declines to take the stand, jurors could be left with questions about Trump’s side of the story.

During the jury selection phase of the trial, Merchan noted to jurors every “defendant’s absolute right not to testify” and that “no negative inference may be drawn against a defendant who chooses not to testify.”

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