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Judge denies use of Access Hollywood tapes as evidence against Trump

A judge in Donald Trump’s hush money trial denied prosecutors’ request on Monday that they be permitted to use as evidence allegations of sexual assault against the former president related to the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

Judge Juan Merchan said such allegations amounted to “rumors” that would be prejudicial toward Trump, according to reports from the Manhattan courtroom.

“They are very prejudicial, and at this point, given what we know today, it was just a rumor,” Merchan said.

The tape, a 2005 clip of Trump making a vulgar comment about women, aired a month before the 2016 presidential election. Prosecutors will be able to tell jurors what Trump said on the tape, but the judge said they cannot play it, nor can they introduce evidence of the sexual misconduct allegations that surfaced in the weeks after it leaked.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg had asked Merchan for permission to use the tape and related material as evidence against Trump as a way to prove that Trump was allegedly incentivized in 2016 to pay porn star Stormy Daniels to silence her to help his election prospects.

The tape and subsequent sexual assault allegations made by three women sent Trump’s campaign into a “tailspin,” prosecutors said Monday, arguing that it was crucial that they be able to prove that to the jury, according to Politico.

Merchan decided in an order last month that prosecutors would not be permitted to air the tape during the trial but that they could use testimony about the tape. Merchan indicated at the time that he would save his decision on whether to allow prosecutors to use the sexual assault allegations for the first day of trial.

Merchan had said in the order that he agreed with Trump “that a compromise should be struck to avoid undue prejudice to the Defendant.”

“This Court rules that the proper balance lies in allowing the People to elicit testimony about a videotaped interview which surfaced on October 7, 2016, that contained comments of a sexual nature which Defendant feared could hurt his presidential aspirations,” Merchan wrote. “However, it is not necessary that the tape itself be introduced into evidence or that it be played for the jury.”

Merchan reiterated Monday that the tape itself could not be played for the jury, saying, according to Politico, that what he “didn’t want was for jurors to hear Mr. Trump’s voice.”

The judge also ruled that prosecutors cannot use footage from a videotaped deposition Trump gave during the lawsuit against him by E. Jean Carroll, a writer who accused the former president of sexual assault. Merchan said introducing that evidence from the Carroll case would be “building in a trial into a trial,” according to CNN.

Merchan’s decisions regarding permissible evidence came ahead of what is expected to be days, or possibly weeks, of jury selection before parties can begin presenting their cases.

Bragg, an elected Democrat, has charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related, in part, to the Daniels payments. Trump has pleaded not guilty, and the former president condemned the case as political “persecution” before he entered the courtroom Monday.

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