Experts: Trump lawyer had "heated outburst attacking Judge Chutkan" — but she "called his bluff"

Trump attorney John Lauro "did not do himself any favors" during hearing, former prosecutor says

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published August 29, 2023 11:08AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)
Donald Trump (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's attorney lashed out at U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan during Monday's hearing but legal experts say he didn't do his client any favors as she scheduled his trial to kick off on March 4, just one day before Super Tuesday.

Lauro adamantly protested the judge's ruling, arguing that he could not adequately defend the former president within that timeline, amongst other complaints. Lauro during the hearing complained about the scope of the evidence turned over by prosecutors in discovery — about 12.8 million pages of material — even as prosecutors argued that much of the evidence has already been available to the former president's legal team. Lauro argued that the trial should be delayed until 2026.

"This is an enormous, overwhelming task," Lauro said, adding that he has begun drafting a series of motions in an effort to see Trump's case diminished or altogether dismissed.

Lauro's "heated outburst attacking Judge Chutkan" quickly gained traction across social media as legal experts warned that his tact could backfire on Trump.

Former federal prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner argued that Lauro "did not do himself any favors."

"He was a bomb thrower," he said Monday. "It sounded like he was making arguments to Donald Trump's base, not to the judge. When the judge implored him, 'give me a reasonable alternative proposal.' He said, and I think I can quote him because I was furiously taking notes. He said, 'We can't do it in anything less than the time we have proposed.' And she had had about enough. And she said, 'Well, then, you just bought yourself a March 4, 2024, trial date.'"

Host Joy Reid pointed out that a lot of the "information has been out for two years. And [Chutkan] goes on to say, the defense has not identified any case in the district where the defendant was given two years in which there were no co-defendants and no ongoing pandemic."

"You know, she called his bluff at every turn, and the prosecutors called the defense counsel's bluff at every turn," Kirschner said. "My favorite moment was when John Lauro was insisting he hadn't done anything to prepare the case. He hasn't had time. He hasn't looked at the documents. And the prosecutor stood up and said, 'Actually, he gave an interview to the media where he said he has read Mike Pence's book not once but twice and is already preparing cross-examination.' So, it sounds like the defense preparation is well underway."

Kirschner also argued that Trump's legal team ruined their chances of gaining a more advantageous trial date by asking that the trial be delayed until 2026, well after the 2024 presidential election has taken place. 

"She gave the defense team several opportunities to come up with a more realistic proposed trial date," he explained. "He refused to budge even one month or one day. By the end of the hearing, what she was thinking, she said, your idea and my idea of how much time is necessary are very different. I am setting jury selection for this case on March 4th, 2024. That gives them enough time to adequately prepare for trial."

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Former attorney and MSNBC host Ari Melber, in conversation with former federal prosecutor David Kelley, observed Lauro's singling out of Hunter Biden during Chutkan's hearing, in which the lawyer accused the federal government of putting on a "show trial," and claimed that he intends to file a specific motion alleging that the Justice Department is targeting Trump because he is a political adversary of President Joe Biden. 

"There are places where, in conversation or online, someone can say a fact that sounds negative about Trump and what he did, and someone else will say, 'but Hunter Biden,'" Melber said. "And as you know, David, I support free speech and you could say those three words any time you want and then, at a dinner or barbecue, you decide how much you think that is a rebuttal or not."

"I'm not saying Mr. Lauro said those three words — indeed, he didn't say the word Hunter," Melber added. "But he did shoehorn in what, in law school, you might call a clever or creative way — he shoehorned the president's son into the hearing today. And I didn't see the judge respond negatively, although she certainly didn't endorse what he was arguing. But he shoehorned it in legally by saying, but Donald Trump has attacked Hunter Biden, how do we not know — how do we not know, David, that those attacks on the president's son didn't create a chain of events where the president picked an AG who picked a special counsel who went after Donald Trump as a 'retaliatory measure?'"

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"It's interesting, because the judge is going to have to decide what to do with this," Kelley replied. "In order ... to get this motion going anywhere, he's going to have to let specific facts in order to get a hearing on it. Because it's going to be a very fact-specific type of analysis, and I really doubt they're going to be able to allege facts that are going to tip the balance toward having a hearing. So, they're going to throw a lot of stuff out there, but I think, ultimately, the judge will have plenty of room to just say, this goes nowhere."

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman wrote in a column for the Los Angeles Times that it" certainly doesn't help Trump that Chutkan has made clear that his lawyer, John Lauro, is already in a fairly deep hole with the judge."

Though Litman conceded Lauro's "preposterous proposal" of an April 2026 trial date likely came at Trump's behest, the attorney continuously pushed back on Chutkan during the hearing, asserting that "the trial date will deny President Trump, the opportunity to have effective assistance of counsel." 

"You and I have a very, very different estimate of… the time that's needed to prepare for this case," Litman quoted Chutkan as saying. 

"She also noted that the Trump legal team's claim that 'median time' for similar cases to go to trial — which it used to get to the April 2026 date — was misleading," Litman observed. "That's the time from commencement of a case to sentencing, not to trial."

"In the setting of a federal court, these tart comments are the equivalent of a thorough boxing of Lauro's ears. They suggested not only that the outlandish proposal of April 2026 had backfired, but also that Lauro's credibility with Chutkan is already damaged, an ominous position, before the litigation has even started in earnest."

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith John Lauro Politics Tanya Chutkan