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Judge in Trump criminal hush-money case can stay, NY ethics panel signals

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By Karen Freifeld

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York judicial ethics committee signaled that the state judge overseeing the criminal case against former President Donald Trump over hush money payments to a porn star will not need to recuse himself as Trump has requested.

The one-page opinion released on Saturday by New York’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics does not identify anyone by name, but mirrors the case against Trump brought by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and overseen by Justice Juan Merchan of the state court there.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment accusing him of falsifying business records tied to a payment to keep porn star Stormy Daniels quiet prior to the 2016 presidential election about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with him.

The Republican, who has denied the encounter, publicly filed a motion on June 2 asking that Merchan recuse himself because of an alleged conflict of interest and bias.

Trump cited work performed by the judge’s daughter for Democrats, and Merchan’s allegedly encouraging a former Trump Organization executive to cooperate against Trump and his interests last year during the company’s tax fraud case.

He also asked Merchan to explain donations, totaling $35, in 2020 to the Democratic fundraising organization ActBlue, including $15 to Biden for President, as reflected on the Federal Election Commission website.

The ethics panel said Merchan’s impartiality “cannot reasonably be questioned” based on his daughter’s activities, or on the “modest” political contributions he made more than two years ago.

The panel’s opinion did not address Merchan’s alleged role in negotiations with former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to plead guilty in the tax fraud case.

The opinion was based on an inquiry that predated Trump’s motion for Merchan to step aside.

Judges make their own recusal decisions in New York, but can ask the ethics panel for advice.

A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did a representative for Merchan.

New York state judges are not allowed to make political contributions, according to state rules governing judicial conduct.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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