16.2 C
New York
Sunday, April 14, 2024

Judge sets March 2024 trial date in Trump’s federal case related to 2020 election

Washington — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has set a trial date for March 2024 in the case brought by the Justice Department against former President Donald Trump related to alleged efforts to thwart the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 presidential election.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who sits on the federal district court in Washington, said in a hearing Monday that the proposed trial date put forth by federal prosecutors — for the proceedings to begin in January 2024 — doesn’t give Trump enough time to prepare.

But the schedule suggested by the former president for the trial to take place in April 2026, well past the next presidential election, is “far beyond what is necessary,” and risks witnesses becoming unavailable or their memories fading, Chutkan said.

Instead, the judge said the trial will begin March 4, 2024. Chutkan’s schedule means the proceeding, as it currently stands, will begin one day before Super Tuesday, a crucial date on the presidential election calendar when more than a dozen states will hold their presidential primaries. Trump is a Republican presidential candidate, undertaking his third bid for the White House.

“I take seriously the defense’s request that Mr. Trump be treated like any other defendant that appears before this court, and I intend to do so,” Chutkan said.

But John Lauro, the lead attorney for Trump, said the legal team could ask for a stay — or a pause — in the case, pending the resolution of legal arguments they intend to make. He said the March 2024 trial date would deny the former president the opportunity to have effective representation.

Trump was indicted on four federal counts that amounted to an alleged scheme to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election results and stay in power. The former president pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month and claimed his prosecution by Smith is part of an attempt to harm his campaign. Trump is currently the leading candidate for the Republican nomination.

The proposed trial dates put forth by the two sides straddled both sides of the 2024 presidential election and underscored their differences in how quickly they believe the pretrial process can move.

Chutkan acknowledged at the start of the hearing that the two proposed schedules are “far apart,” and said “neither of them are acceptable.” She poured cold water on Trump’s proposed April 2026 trial date, telling Lauro that “this case is not going to trial in 2026.”

The former president’s other obligations should not impact the timing of his trial in Washington, the judge said.

“Mr. Trump will have to make this trial date work … regardless of his schedule,” Chutkan said.

The former president’s prosecution in Washington is one of four brought against him by federal and local prosecutors, and he is likely to spend much of 2024 navigating legal proceedings for his criminal cases and the election calendar.

Trump is currently the only defendant charged as part of Smith’s federal election-related probe — a stark contrast to the 18 others indicted with him in Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ racketeering case in Georgia, which relates to alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state.

In Georgia, where he is charged with 13 state felony counts, Willis proposed the trial there start on Oct. 23.

Smith has also brought a separate federal case against Trump stemming from his handling of classified documents after he left the White House, which is based in the Southern District of Florida. That case is currently set to go to trial in May. He pleaded not guilty to the 40 charges brought by the special counsel.

Trump is also charged with 34 state felony counts in New York, and the trial in that case is set for late March. Chutkan said she spoke with the judge overseeing that case, New York Judge Juan Merchan, about her intended trial date. Trump pleaded not guilty to all counts.

As part of their argument for an April 2026 trial date, Trump’s attorneys cited an “enormity” of evidence turned over by the government — in their filing this month they said it includes 11.5 million pages of documents — and what they said are novel legal issues that Trump’s prosecution raises.

Molly Gaston, a prosecutor on Smith’s team, argued during the hearing that the discovery process is “substantially complete,” as the government has turned over 12.8 million pages of material. She noted that most of the documents came from entities that were available to Trump, such as transcripts from interviews conducted by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol assault or materials from his 2020 campaign and political action committee.

But Lauro called the Justice Department’s proposed schedule a “request for a show trial.”

“For a federal prosecutor to suggest that we could go to trial in four months is not only absurd, but a violation of the oath to do justice,” he said.

Lauro said Trump’s “liberty and life are at stake,” adding that he is “not different than any American.”

Previewing the defense’s next steps, Lauro said he intends to file a “unique and extensive motion” dealing with executive immunity, and plans to raise First Amendment issues. He indicated in interviews earlier this month that he will also embark on a long-shot effort to move the federal case out of Washington, D.C.

Gaston, though, said Trump’s social media posts underscore the need to hold a trial sooner than April 2026, and she warned his online statements disparaging potential witnesses and attacking the court’s integrity could taint the pool of prospective jurors.

The former president did not attend the proceeding, which marks the second time Trump’s attorneys and the special counsel’s office have appeared before Chutkan. At a hearing earlier this month, she issued a protective order in the case that limited the use and disclosure of “sensitive” discovery material and imposed a narrower set of restrictions on what information could be publicly disclosed than prosecutors had sought.

The judge, an Obama appointee, also said that Trump has a First Amendment right to free speech, but acknowledged that this right “is not absolute.” She said that as a defendant, the former president is bound by the conditions of his release, including laws against witness intimidation. Chutkan told Lauro that any questionable social media posts by his client would only serve to accelerate the trial schedule in order to protect the jury pool.

Federal judges have broad powers to set trial and hearing schedules in cases over which they preside, and the judge’s warning came as Trump was calling the case — and Chutkan herself — into question, accusing her on social media of being “highly partisan” and “very biased and unfair.”

The former president renewed his criticisms of Chutkan and Smith after his trial date was scheduled, calling the special counsel and his prosecutors “thugs” and the judge “Trump hating” in a social media post.

“Deranged Jack Smith & his team of Thugs, who were caught going to the White House just prior to Indicting the 45th President of the United States (an absolute No No!), have been working on this Witch Hunt for almost 3 years, but decided to bring it smack in the middle of Crooked Joe Biden’s Political Opponent’s campaign against him,” he wrote. “Election Interference! Today a biased, Trump Hating Judge gave me only a two month extension, just what our corrupt government wanted, SUPER TUESDAY. I will APPEAL!”

It’s unclear whether Trump can appeal the date set by Chutkan.

Just one day after Trump posted on his social media website Truth Social “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” a Texas woman left a threatening and racist voicemail for Chutkan, according to a criminal complaint filed against her. The woman, who was arrested and charged, allegedly said on the recording, “You are in our sights. We want to kill you” and warned, “if Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly b***h,” according to the filing.

Related Articles

Latest Articles