By Petr Svab and Jackson Richman
WASHINGTON—Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan set the trial date on March 4 for the case dealing with former President Donald Trump’s efforts to challenge the 2020 election results.
She declared both trial dates offered by President Trump’s lawyers and special counsel Jack Smith as unacceptable.
She said she took into account other trials President Trump is facing, but wouldn’t consider his personal or professional circumstances, i.e. the campaign schedule of his 2024 presidential run.
Special counsel Jack Smith on Aug. 1 brought four charges against President Trump, including a conspiracy to obstruct the collection and counting of electoral votes as well as a conspiracy against Americans’ right to vote.
The indictment relies on the assumption that President Trump didn’t genuinely believe that the election victory was unlawfully taken from him and that his attempts to challenge the results were unlawful.
The timing of the trial bears political implications. President Trump may have an interest in delaying it beyond the election, while his opponents would like to see him sentenced during election season. The date selected by the judge happens to be one day before the “Super Tuesday” slew of primary elections in 16 states.
Mr. Smith previously asked for a January trial date with jury selection as early as Dec. 11. The defense proposed April 2026.
The case appears to be exceptionally complex. As part of the discovery process, the prosecutors are almost done handing over to the defense some 12.8 million documents and files, federal prosecutor Molly Gaston said during the hearing.
She noted that more than 60 percent of the discovery came from entities affiliated with President Trump, the implication being that the defense doesn’t need to review all the material because they might have seen some of it previously.
President Trump’s lawyer, John Lauro, called such a line of reasoning “ridiculous,” accusing the prosecutors of trying to turn the case into a “show trial.”
It was “absurd,” he said, for the prosecutors to suggest that he could review the discovery in just four months.
The judge retorted that President Trump has resources available that other defendants don’t, but she didn’t explain what resources or why should he be forced to expend them if other defendants aren’t.
She pointed out that lawyers would be reviewing available materials even before the charges were brought. Mr. Lauro explained that he wasn’t yet President Trump’s lawyer back then.
There will be a number of pre-trial legal issues that will need to be litigated, including subpoenas and some questions regarding Mr. Smith’s novel use of criminal law, Mr. Lauro said.
The judge laughed at his comment that he will be standing before her to argue those issues many times before the trial.
Ms. Gaston pointed out that President Trump and his lawyers have made public comments regarding the case as well as the work of the Congressional January 6 committee. The defense can’t claim that their research started from scratch on the day of the indictment, she suggested, arguing there’s a strong public interest in speedy resolution of the case.
President Trump’s social media posts, she claimed, could prejudice the jury pool.
President Trump is already facing a May 2024 trial in another case brought by Mr. Smith in Florida dealing with his retention of national defense documents from his term in office. Another trial, in New York, is scheduled for March, relating to allegedly false bookkeeping entries. Yet another trial is in the works in Georgia, also targeting the former president’s efforts to challenge the 2020 elections. The date hasn’t been set, but the prosecutor, District Attorney Fani Willis, first proposed March and then October, when one of the co-defendants asked for a speedy trial. A number of lawyers have opined that even the March date was unrealistic.