Trump’s calendar becoming crowded as legal battles escalate in New York, D.C.

By: and - February 15, 2024 2:08 pm

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends a pretrial hearing at Manhattan Criminal Court on Feb. 15, 2024, in New York City. Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records last year, which prosecutors say was an effort to hide a potential sex scandal, both before and after the 2016 presidential election. (Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump’s days of fighting criminal charges in two courts could be arriving soon.

Special Counsel Jack Smith urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday not to pause federal election interference proceedings, and a New York state judge on Thursday set a late March trial date on charges related to hush money allegations.

If the New York trial date holds, it will mark the first time a former U.S. president has been put on trial, even as he campaigns to be returned to office.

In the District of Columbia, Smith in a brief to the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked justices to deny Trump’s request to further delay proceedings in the case that alleges he tried to overturn the 2020 presidential election results.

A speedy trial is in the public’s interest, and the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner’s claims of absolute immunity and protection under the impeachment clause lack the merit needed for the justices to grant a stay, Smith said.

“The charged crimes strike at the heart of our democracy. A President’s alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law,” Smith wrote in the 40-page filing.

Rather, the Supreme Court should treat Trump’s application for delay as a petition for the justices to speedily review and resolve the questions presented in the singular case, Smith said.

“Delay in the resolution of these charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict — a compelling interest in every criminal case and one that has unique national importance here, as it involves federal criminal charges against a former President for alleged criminal efforts to overturn the results of the Presidential election, including through the use of official power,” Smith wrote.

New York trial to start March 25

On Thursday night, Trump’s lawyers filed a response to Smith, saying “logical consistency” was absent from Smith’s brief “and he provides no convincing reason to deny the requested stay.” They also said Smith’s “latest filing raises a compelling inference of a political motive — the motivation to influence the 2024 Presidential election by bringing the leading Republican candidate to trial before November 5, 2024.”

If the justices decide to grant Trump’s request to stay trial proceedings, they should also immediately move to hear the immunity appeal and expedite that schedule, Smith said. He added that the court should set oral arguments in the case for March, “consistent with the Court’s expedition of other cases meriting such treatment.”

Case proceedings have been delayed for months as Trump’s request for criminal immunity has wound through the lower courts.

Smith underlined his own arguments for speed by filing his brief six days ahead of a deadline set by the Supreme Court.

That delay has not affected a separate criminal proceeding against Trump on New York state charges he falsified business records by paying hush money to adult film star Stormy Daniels during his 2016 White House campaign.

That case is set to proceed to jury selection on March 25 under an order Judge Juan M. Merchan signed Thursday.

The judge overseeing the federal election interference case in the District of Columbia, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, had originally set March 4 as the start date for that trial. The charges stem from a four-count criminal indictment brought by a federal grand jury in August.

When Chutkan denied Trump’s immunity petition in early December, the former president appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Smith cites a ‘radical claim’

The three-judge federal appeals panel unanimously denied Trump’s request in a Feb. 6 opinion that found the former president’s arguments “unsupported by precedent, history or the text and structure of the Constitution.”

On Monday, Trump asked the Supreme Court to pause all proceedings in district court while he petitions the appeals court to escalate his case to a full-judge panel — a move that Smith says holds no merit.

The unanimous appeals ruling, issued by the three judges who were appointed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, clearly signals that Trump’s “radical claim” will not be successful before a full appeals court, Smith argued.

“That position finds no support in constitutional text, separation-of-powers principles, history, or logic,” Smith wrote. “And if that radical claim were accepted, it would upend understandings about Presidential accountability that have prevailed throughout history while undermining democracy and the rule of law.”

Former presidents have long understood themselves to be subject to criminal prosecution following their terms, Smith said, meaning Trump’s argument that anything short of full immunity would cause untold damage to the power of the presidency should be rejected.

Even after President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal “removed any doubt” of a former president’s criminal liability, no president until Trump has claimed that fear of post-presidency prosecution had any impact on Oval Office decision-making, Smith said.

Watergate, which also dealt with a president’s unlawful attempts to remain in power, led to a criminal investigation and Nixon accepting a pardon for criminal activities arising from his conduct, Smith said.

“The Nation’s tradition is therefore clear: Presidential conduct that violates the criminal law to achieve the end of remaining in power may be subject to a prosecution.”

New York case 

A trial on the federal election interference charges — one of four criminal trials pending against Trump — has been delayed from its initial start date following a months-long detour on the immunity issue.

That delay has allowed another trial to be likely the first to open against the former president, the one in New York state court.

Following the Thursday hearing in the case, Trump posted to his social media platform, Truth Social, to deny the charges and claim that the state charges — as he says about all the criminal allegations he faces — are politically motivated.

“Just left the Courthouse in Manhattan,” Trump wrote. “Biden’s DOJ people have taken control of the case. There was NO CRIME, and almost all legal scholars are saying that. It’s Election Interference, the Dems 2024 way of cheating!”

Trump has denied having an affair with Daniels.

Trump also faces federal charges in Florida that he improperly handled classified documents and refused to turn them over to authorities after he left office and state election interference charges in Georgia making similar allegations as the federal election interference case.

The Supreme Court heard another Trump case last week related to Colorado’s decision to remove him from the state’s presidential primary ballot. The state’s Supreme Court ruled in December that Trump should be disqualified from the race under a provision of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment that bars insurrectionists from holding office.

A decision is expected soon.

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Ashley Murray
Ashley Murray

Ashley Murray covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include domestic policy and appropriations.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy and helps direct national coverage as deputy Washington bureau chief for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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