Judge in Trump’s hush money trial did not bar campaign finance expert from testifying for defense

CLAIM: New York Judge Juan M. Merchan wouldn’t let the defense call campaign finance expert Bradley A. Smith to testify in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Merchan did not bar Smith from testifying. Trump’s legal team chose to not call on him after the judge on Monday declined to broaden the scope of questioning the defense could pursue. The ruling echoed his pretrial ruling on the matter.

THE FACTS: As the trial continued Tuesday, social media users misrepresented Merchan’s ruling, repeating a statement Trump made that Smith, a law professor and former Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, was not being allowed to take the stand.

“The expert witness that we have, the best there is in election law, Brad Smith, he’s considered the Rolls Royce, or we’ll bring it back to an American car, Cadillac, but the best there is,” Trump said on his way out of court on Monday. “He can’t testify. He’s not being allowed to testify.”

The former president reiterated this falsehood several more times in his post-trial comments, claiming that Merchan was blocking Smith’s testimony “because he’s going to say we did nothing wrong.” He also posted about it on his social media platform Truth Social later that evening, calling Merchan’s decision “election interference.”

Other social media users then repeated Trump’s claim.

“Biden-Donor Judge Merchan won’t allow the former FEC Commissioner to testify on behalf of Trump because he would have said that Trump did not violate any federal election laws!” reads one X post that had received more than 5,700 likes and shares as of Tuesday. “This trial is totally rigged!”

But Smith was permitted to testify. The defense decided not to call him after Merchan reaffirmed a pretrial ruling that limited what he could have spoken about. The defense rested its case on Tuesday after calling two witnesses to testify — Daniel Sitko, a paralegal who works in the law office of Trump attorney Todd Blanche, and Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor in New York.

Merchan said that, if called, Smith could give general background about the FEC — for example, it’s purpose and the laws it enforces — and provide definitions for terms such as “campaign contribution.” He rejected the Trump team’s renewed efforts to have Smith define three terms in federal election law on the basis that doing so would breach rules preventing expert witnesses from interpreting the law. Nor could Smith opine on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

The judge said if Smith did testify, the prosecution would then be permitted to call an expert of its own, resulting in a “battle of the experts” that “would only serve to confuse and not assist the jury.”

Smith, who was appointed to the FEC by former President Bill Clinton, acknowledged in an X post on Monday that he did not testify because of a decision made by the defense. He added that he had intended to testify about complicated background knowledge necessary to understanding the case, rather than about the law.

“Judge Merchan has so restricted my testimony that defense has decided not to call me,” Smith wrote.
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared false and misleading information that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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