05/21/2024 - US Expert News: Justice Merchan Limits Trump's Expert Witness Testimony

Trump's defense team wants to call election law expert Brad Smith to testify about federal campaign finance law. However, the judge ruled this morning that allowing Smith to testify expansively on that topic would supplant the judge's role in determining what the law is.

“There is no question this would result in a battle of the experts, which will only serve to confuse, and not assist, the jury,” Merchan declared near the beginning of today's court session.

Merchan did not block Trump from calling Smith, a former member of the Federal Election Commission. But the judge said he’d be restricted to the basics of the FEC and to “general definitions and terms” in campaign finance law, such as what counts as a contribution or expenditure.

Trump’s defense aims for Smith to testify about the FEC’s policy that expenses existing “irrespective” of a candidacy are not considered campaign expenditures, to argue that the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels wasn’t campaign-related under federal law.

Trump lawyer Emil Bove complained to Merchan that prosecutors have structured their case for felony convictions in a way that makes federal campaign law more pivotal than it appeared before the trial. “We’re still in a very strange situation because of the way the government has structured these business-record charges,” Bove said.

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo argued there was no surprise since the DA’s office stated in a court filing last November that it might argue the felony enhancement was due to Trump allegedly attempting to violate federal law.

"The court will monitor this testimony closely to ensure full compliance," Merchan said in a pretrial ruling. "Any deviation from this ruling could result in sanction up to and including striking the expert's entire testimony."

Trump shook his head in response to the judge's decision.