Federal judge rejects Trump effort to remove Manhattan criminal case to federal court, remands back to state court

July 20, 2023
by
Ben Marquis

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump sought to have the criminal case brought against him by Democratic Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg removed from New York state court to federal court, given that Trump was the sitting president at the time the alleged crimes occurred.

Unfortunately for Trump, a federal judge just rejected all of his arguments in that regard and ordered that the case be remanded back down to the state court, the Washington Examiner reported.

The judge ruled that Trump failed to prove two main components of the federal statute he cited in support of removal -- that his alleged criminal acts constituted "official acts of a President" as well as show a "colorable federal defense" to DA Bragg's indictment against him.

The indictment and Trump's request for removal to federal court

Former President Trump, of course, was indicted in April by DA Bragg on 34 felony counts of allegedly falsifying business records in relation to his reimbursement throughout 2017 to then-personal attorney Michael Cohen for the October 2016 "hush money" payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, to silence her about an alleged affair years earlier and improperly influence the impending presidential election.

According to the 25-page ruling on Wednesday from U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, Trump cited a particular federal statute that allows certain state-level cases to be removed to the federal court system when they involve a federal "officer" of the United States, and raised several arguments in support of that citation.

The statute in question, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 1442(a)(1), states that "A civil action or criminal prosecution that is commenced in a State court ... may be removed by them to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place wherein it is pending" if it is "against or directed to" any "officer ... of the United States ... for or relating to any act under color of such office."

Trump argued that the case should be removed to federal court since he was the sitting president at the time of the alleged crimes and was acting "within the 'color of his office,'" and that the charges involved allegations related to federal and state election laws and therefore was preempted by federal law. He also argued that, as president at the time of the alleged crimes, he was immune to state-level prosecution, and further asserted that federal "protective jurisdiction" warranted removal since DA Bragg was "politically motivated" to bring the charges against him.

Trump's arguments rejected one by one

However, in his ruling, Judge Hellerstein held that former President Trump had "improperly invoked" Sec. 1442 and proceeded to dismantle each of the arguments put forward by Trump in turn.

With regard to Trump's "color of office" claim, the judge wrote, "The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the matter was a purely a personal item of the President-a cover-up of an embarrassing event. Hush money paid to an adult film star is not related to a President's official acts. It does not reflect in any way the color of the President's official duties."

As for the "colorable federal defense" argument, Hellerstein broke that down into its two main components -- "immunity" and "preemption" -- and proceeded to reject them both.

The judge determined that neither "Reimbursing Cohen for advancing hush money to Stephanie Clifford" nor "Falsifying business records to hide such reimbursement" could be construed as being related to a "presidential duty," meaning Trump was not immune from prosecution, and likewise, "The mere fact that Trump is alleged to have engaged in fraudulent conduct with respect to a federal election is not a basis for preemption. There is no colorable basis to support a federal preemption defense."

As for Trump's final argument for "protective jurisdiction" in that the indictment was "politically motivated" and evidence of "state hostility" against him, Hellerstein determined that "there is no reason to believe that the New York judicial system would not be fair and give Trump equal justice under the law. Trump fails to make a case of protective jurisdiction."

Case remanded back to state court

In conclusion, Judge Hellerstein wrote, "Trump has failed to show that the conduct charged by the Indictment is for or relating to any act performed by or for the President under color of the official acts of a President. Trump also has failed to show that he has a colorable federal defense to the Indictment."

"For either or both of these reasons, the People's motion to remand the case is granted. The Clerk shall remand the case file to the New York Supreme Court, New York County," he added.

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