Trump’s federal election subversion trial to begin one day before Super Tuesday primary
Washington CNN —
The federal criminal trial of Donald Trump on charges he sought to subvert the result of the 2020 presidential election will begin March 4, 2024, the day before the Super Tuesday primary, a federal judge ruled Monday.
US District Judge Tanya Chutkan made the ruling after a contentious hearing Monday in Washington, DC.
“This timeline does not move the case forward with the haste of the mob,” Chutkan said after more than an hour of debate over when the trial should begin.
Special counsel Jack Smith had proposed a January 2024 start date and Trump sought to begin the trial two years later, in April 2026.
Chutkan said Monday that a January 2024 date “does not give the defense enough time to prepare for trial,” but added that April 2026 was “far beyond what is necessary.”
Referring to Trump’s campaign, Chutkan noted that “setting a trial date does not depend and should not depend on the defendant’s personal or professional obligations,” though she said she did consider the trial schedules for Trump’s three other criminal indictments.
The trial date overlaps with the one set in New York, where Trump is charged with violating state laws for maintaining false books and records by concealing hush money payments.
Trump attorney John Lauro said that he would abide by the schedule that Chutkan set, but noted for the court record that he believed “the trial date will deny President Trump the opportunity to have effective assistance of counsel.”
The contentious hearing twice prompted Chutkan to urge the parties to calm down. At one point, Lauro raised his voice to accuse prosecutors of violating their “oath to do justice” by suggesting to go to trial within four months.
“Let’s take the temperature down a little here,” Chutkan told Lauro.
Prosecutor Molly Gaston argued during the hearing that it was important to take the special counsel’s election subversion case against Trump to trial as soon as possible in part because of Trump’s social media posts.
“On a near-daily basis, the defendant posts on social media about this case,” Gaston said.
“He has publicly disparaged witnesses, he has attacked the integrity of the court and of the citizens of the District of Columbia” who will eventually serve as a jury, she added.
Chutkan warned that she would be “watching carefully for anything that might effect that jury pool or poison that jury pool,” including any comments that the former president or his legal team made about DC in the lead-up to the March trial date.
Smith’s team told Chutkan in a filing earlier this month that the trial should begin on January 2, 2024. They said their presentation of evidence in the trial would take “no longer than four to six weeks,” meaning that Trump may need to spend his weekdays in court before a jury in the crucial first two months of a presidential election year, as primary voting begins for Republicans.
Attorneys for the former president forcefully pushed back shortly thereafter, urging the judge to reject Smith’s proposal and saying the prosecutor sought an unusually “rapid” trial schedule.
“The government’s objective is clear: to deny President Trump and his counsel a fair ability to prepare for trial,” they wrote in their filing.
Among other things, Trump’s team argued that Smith’s proposed timeline for the trial would conflict with the other criminal and civil cases in which the former president is a defendant, including the classified documents case brought by Smith, the hush money case in New York and the Georgia election subversion case.
In the Georgia case, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis last week suggested an October 23, 2023, trial date, something Trump’s team also said they oppose.
Chutkan said she spoke with Judge Juan Merchan in New York last week about the trial schedule. A spokesman for the New York court said “At this time there is nothing further to impart regarding the People of the State of New York v Donald J. Trump.”
Smith said in a filing to Chutkan last week that Trump was overplaying concerns about scheduling conflicts among his various criminal cases. His office offered to start jury selection a little later in December to accommodate for a hearing scheduling in the classified documents case in Florida.
Smith’s team also said Trump’s attorneys exaggerated when they wrote in their filing that the nearly 12.8 million pages of the discovery materials prosecutors gave to the defense warranted the protracted trial schedule.
They said much of the materials came from “entities associated with the defendant,” and argued that the “exceptionally organized, clear, and user-friendly fashion” in which they presented the discovery made it appear more voluminous than it really was.
Trump faces four counts in the case, including conspiring to defraud the United States and to obstruct an official proceeding – the latter a charge that has already successfully been brought against rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The former president pleaded not guilty earlier this month.
This story has been updated with additional developments.