Law professor calls out Trump for trying to “manipulate the clock” in both ways as judge cracks down

Trump is complaining that the charges “are too late” and the trial is “too soon,” says legal scholar

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published August 29, 2023 3:07PM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after being booked at the Fulton County jail on August 24, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport after being booked at the Fulton County jail on August 24, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A federal judge set a March 4 trial date in the case brought by the Justice Department against former President Donald Trump over his alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the case, said in a hearing on Monday that the trial date suggested by federal prosecutors, who proposed Jan. 2., didn't allow Trump enough time to prepare. But Trump's team said the trial should be pushed back until April 2026, after the presidential election, which Chutkan said is "far beyond what is necessary."

Trump's lead attorney John Lauro argued that the trial date set by Chutkan would deprive the former president of the opportunity to have "adequate representation".

"This is a request for a show trial, not a speedy trial," Lauro said. "Mr. Trump is not above the law, but he is not below the law."

The March 4 date, when jury selection will begin, is the day before Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states are scheduled to hold Republican primaries or caucuses. 

"Trump is trying to manipulate the clock in two directions simultaneously: on one hand, he complains that the charges are too late and as such, are, in his telling, election interference, yet at the same time he asserts that the March trial date is too soon for him to mount a defense," James Sample, a Hofstra University constitutional law professor, told Salon. 

But the date also collides with two other criminal cases against the former president. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis has suggested a March 4 trial date for Trump regarding election tampering charges in that state and his trial in Manhattan, where Trump is facing over 30 felony charges linked to hush-money payments to a porn actress before the 2016 election, is slated to begin on March 25.

If the trial in Washington exceeds 11 weeks, it could overlap with Trump's other federal trial, on charges of illegally holding onto classified documents after leaving the White House and obstructing the government's efforts to retrieve them, according to The New York Times. The proceedings for this trial are scheduled to begin in Florida in late May, though court schedules frequently change.

"There is no perfect time for criminal charges against a former President and a current presidential candidate," Sample said. "The solution to his timing problems is one that he manifestly rejected via his actions – namely not to engage in the underlying conduct that led to the charges." 

Chutkan acknowledged that she was aware of Trump's upcoming trial dates next year and his concurrent presidential campaign. However, she emphasized that she would not allow the overlap of his legal challenges and political candidacy to hinder the process of determining a date.

"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."

She added that there is a "societal interest to a speedy trial."

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Following Chutkan's ruling in Washington, Trump said in a Truth Social post that he was planning to appeal her decision.

"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," Trump 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!"

In private discussions with his aides, the ex-president has been open about his desire to navigate his intricate legal challenges by securing victory in the election, The Times reported. If either of his two federal trials gets postponed until after the election and Trump ends up winning, he might explore the option of pardoning himself once in office or having his attorney general dismiss the cases entirely, according to the Times. 

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"Trump's bombastic posts aside, there is no right to appeal his trial date," Sample said. "If he is convicted at trial, and then wants to assert, on appeal that he was not afforded adequate time to prepare a trial defense, he can make that argument. The fact is that the judicial system would collapse if every perfunctory, minute decision by every trial judge was immediately appealable. Given Trump's status as a frequent litigant he ought to know that."

Trump is facing three additional criminal lawsuits in New York and Georgia, as well as a federal indictment in Florida linked to his handling of classified materials. 

Although Chutkan said that she had communicated with the judge overseeing the Manhattan case, it remains unclear how the judges and prosecutors would navigate arranging four criminal trials in the upcoming year while Trump remains busy campaigning.

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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