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Trump’s D.C. election-obstruction trial scheduled for March 2024

The federal judge overseeing the case against former president Donald Trump for allegedly obstructing the results of the 2020 election said Monday that she plans to begin his trial on March 4 — a date that collides with both Trump’s 2024 presidential bid and key dates in two other criminal cases against him.

March 4 is one day before Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states will hold primaries or caucuses to pick the Republican presidential nominee. It is not as soon as the Jan. 2 trial date proposed by prosecutors from the office of special counsel Jack Smith, but it is far closer than the April 2026 date Trump’s attorneys requested.

District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said prosecutors had given her no example of such a high-profile case going to trial within five months of indictment, but she likewise said she had never seen such a case set for trial more than two years into the future. And she said Trump would have to “make the trial date work for his campaign schedule just like” any other high-profile defendant.

“If this case involved a professional athlete, it would be inappropriate to schedule a trial to accommodate her schedule,” Chutkan said. “Mr. Trump will be treated with no more or less deference than any other defendant.”


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An early look at the 2024 Republican presidential campaign calendar and Trump’s court dates

Tentative GOP primaries and

other key campaign dates

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An early look at the 2024 Republican presidential

campaign calendar and Trump’s court dates

Proposed trials

Tentative GOP primaries and

other key campaign dates

Trials

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An early look at the 2024 Republican presidential

campaign calendar and Trump’s court dates

Tentative GOP primaries and

other key campaign dates

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Trials

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Trump, who did not attend the hearing, quickly took to his social media site, Truth Social, to say he was planning to appeal the trial date ruling. He called Chutkan “a biased, Trump Hating Judge.”

Legal experts told The Washington Post on Monday that a date set by a trial judge cannot be appealed, though the government or the defendant can ask the judge to change the schedule if conflicts arise.

“Either party can move to modify a schedule based on events that come up,” said David Aaron, a formal federal prosecutor who worked on national security cases. “But once a district court sets a trial date, there is no higher court to appeal to and try to change it.”

Chutkan’s proposed date falls a few weeks before a New York state judge plans to put Trump on trial for alleged business fraud related to hush money payments during the 2016 election campaign. In addition, a federal judge in Florida has scheduled a trial there for late May, on charges that Trump mishandled and improperly retained classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructed efforts by government investigators to retrieve them. Trump has not yet been scheduled for trial in the fourth indictment he faces, on charges of attempting to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.

Chutkan said she had spoken to New York State Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who is overseeing the business fraud case, about “potential overlap.” A spokesperson for Merchan said in a statement that the two judges conferred Thursday about their respective trials, but the statement did not say whether the New York trial date will be rescheduled. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), the prosecutor who brought the New York charges, has said he is aware the trial date could change based on the competing prosecutions.

John Lauro, one of three defense lawyers who appeared in court Monday on Trump’s behalf, told Chutkan he did not think that seven-month time frame would be enough to provide an adequate defense in a historic case. Beyond reviewing millions of pages of potential evidence, Lauro said, he needs time to prepare “unique” motions — including arguments that the Justice Department engaged in selective prosecution, that Trump was protected by executive immunity, that obstruction charges were used in a novel way and that the former president’s First Amendment rights were violated.

“Mr. Trump is not above the law, but he is not below the law,” Lauro said. “This man’s liberty and life is at stake, and he deserves an adequate representation.”

There were murmurs from the crowded gallery as Lauro raised his voice in indignation, labeling the prosecution “political” and a 2024 trial date as “absurd.”

A Trump campaign spokesman issued a statement after the hearing calling the March 4 trial date unfair.

Chutkan said that as a former defense attorney, she was sensitive to Trump’s need to prepare for trial but also confident it would not take two years — especially given the former president’s ability to hire a large team of lawyers.

“Let’s take the temperature down,” she twice told Lauro. “I understand that you have a sacred job, but let’s not overlook the fact that Mr. Trump has considerable resources that not every defendant has.” Chutkan also emphasized that Trump has known about the Justice Department’s investigation since last year and has already seen much of the evidence.

Prosecutor Molly Gatson told the court that 61 percent of the 12.8 million pages of discovery shared with Trump — evidence that must be turned over to the defense before trial — came from his social media accounts, publicly accessible court documents, Trump campaign materials or other sources long available to the former president. She also said the government had organized 47,000 “key documents” into “a road map to our case” for the defense, and created a 300-page annotation of the indictment with all the relevant exhibits attached.

“Why won’t that speed it up?” Chutkan asked Lauro.

With regard to the full volume of documents, she said, “You and I both know … you’re not going through it page by page.”

The judge added that “delay is not an uncommon defense tactic,” one that can lead to witnesses becoming unavailable or forgetting key facts.

Telling Lauro he was “not going to get two more years,” Chutkan asked the defense attorney to give a new estimate of how much time he needed based on the government’s representations. Lauro declined to do so, continuing to call any date before 2026 “an outrage to justice.”

“Never in the history of the United States have we seen a case of this magnitude go to trial in a year,” he said. The government, he argued, wanted “a show trial, not a speedy trial.”

Chutkan said Trump would “absolutely” get a fair trial in her courtroom. “I take seriously the defense’s request that Mr. Trump be treated like any other defendant appearing before this court, and I intend to do so,” she said.

Gaston used Trump’s own words, and those of his lawyers, to argue against Trump’s efforts to push the trial back, noting among other things that some of the challenges Lauro pledged to raise had been litigated by witnesses during the closed-door grand jury portion of the investigation and by criminal defendants in other cases.

“We are not starting fresh at indictment in this case,” she said, recalling that Lauro — shortly after Trump was charged — called the indictment a “regurgitation” of evidence gathered last year by the House Jan. 6 committee. She said Trump has repeatedly talked about his knowledge of the evidence and about witnesses expected to testify, including Mike Pence, his former vice president and a rival for the 2024 nomination. And she pointed out that Lauro has claimed to have already read — twice — Pence’s book, in which Pence recounts the aftermath of the 2020 election and the events of Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump was pressing him to try to overturn the results.

Gaston said Trump’s D.C. trial should happen “as soon as possible” because the former president has been posting about the case on a near-daily basis. “This potentially prejudices the jury pool and so, under the Speedy Trial Act, your Honor, we need to find a time for trial as soon as the defense can reasonably be ready,” the prosecutor said.

Her appeal echoed a concern Chutkan raised at an Aug. 11 hearing, in which she suggested that Trump’s public statements — unusual in a federal criminal case and the type of behavior that tends to anger judges — might mean the trial should happen quickly to avoid witness tampering and the influencing of potential jurors. Legal experts say judges are limited in how they can respond to Trump’s statements, in part because he is a political candidate.

Lauro indicated that the defense team will probably take a poll of D.C. residents in coming weeks, hoping to bolster its argument for moving the trial outside the city where the Jan. 6 attack took place and where few voters supported Trump. Efforts by numerous Capitol riot defendants to move their trials elsewhere have failed.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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